At Alliance Française on Fridays at 8 pm
At Alliance Française on Friday, April 3: L'Atalante / Le Chaland qui passe (1934) by Jean Vigo – 88 mins – France, Drama/ Romance. Black and white. No English subtitles. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 87 out of 100.
With Michel Simon, Dita Parlo, Jean Dasté.
When Juliette marries Jean, she comes to live on his ship, on board of which are, besides the two of them, only a cabin boy and the strange old second mate Père Jules. Soon bored by life on the river, she slips off to see the nightlife when they come to Paris. Angered by this, Jean sets off, leaving Juliette behind. Overcome by grief and longing for his wife, Jean falls into a depression and Père Jules goes and tries to find Juliette…
– Alliance description
Rotten Tomatoes synopsis: Considered by critics to be one of the 20th century's best films, L'Atalante is the final work of French director Jean Vigo's (Zero for Conduct) tragically brief, but brilliant career. After their wedding, Juliette (Dita Parlo) and Jean (Jean Dasté) set out on L'Atalante, the river barge that Jean captains. In a scene representative of the film's lovely, poetic cinematography, Juliette, both desiring and fearing her new life, wistfully walks atop the length of the barge, wedding dress fluttering in the wind. The couple soon settles into wedded bliss, with the companionship of quirky, tattooed bargeman Père Jules. He provides many of the film's unexpected comedic moments (watch for the plethora of cats, and the cigarette smoking belly button). Trouble arises, however, as Jean continually foils Juliette's attempts to learn more of life by listening to the radio and exploring the barge's ports. When a charming traveling salesman/entertainer (Gilles Margaritis) entices Juliette with stories of the charm of Paris, she decides to venture out on her own. The question of whether Jean and Julliette's love will win out over their conflicting ideas, along with the naturalistic, dreamlike visual world that Vigo creates, will keep viewers enraptured to the end.
Passing note: The film's much-lauded cinematography was by Boris Kaufman, the brother of Soviet film maker Dziga Vertov. He would later go on to shoot Hollywood films such as On the Waterfront (1954).
Wikipedia: The film has been praised for its prescient poetic realist style, but it also includes surprising surrealist passages, such as the double exposure Michel Simon wrestling match and a scene in which Jean jumps into the river. Upon its release, the French art historian Élie Faure found the film "classical, almost violent and always tormented, fevered, overflowing with ideas and with fantasy; truculent; a virulent and even demonical romanticism that still remains humanistic".
The film became a favorite of the filmmakers of the French New Wave, whose films contain many allusions to Vigo's work. The French director Francois Truffaut fell in love with it when he saw it at age 14 in 1946: "When I entered the theater, I didn't even know who Jean Vigo was. I was immediately overwhelmed with wild enthusiasm for his work".
L'Atalante was chosen as the 10th-greatest film of all time in British journal Sight & Sound's 1962 poll, and as the 6th-best in its 1992 poll.
"These landscapes of water, trees, little houses on peaceful banks, and boats slowly threading their way ahead of a silver wake: the same impeccable composition, the same power invisibly present because so much a master of itself, the same balance of all the elements of a visual drama in the tender embrace of complete acceptance, the same pearly, golden veil translucently masking the sharpness of composition and the firmness of line. And perhaps it was this simplicity of composition, entirely devoid of flourishes or decorations - classical, in a word - that made me appreciate all the more the pleasure of savoring the very spirit of Vigo's work, almost violent, certainly tormented, feverish, brimming with ideas and truculent fantasy, with virulent, even demonic, and yet constantly human romanticism." (Élie Faure, author of Histoire de l'art.)
Senses of Cinema, Maximilian Le Cain: Of all cinema's illustrious martyr figures, none is more romantic than Jean Vigo, poet maudit of '30s French cinema, dead at 29 after a long struggle with tuberculosis, leaving a filmography that can be screened in just over three hours and which, during his lifetime, showed every sign of vanishing into oblivion. But the ethereal beauty and earthy anarchism that permeate his two masterpieces Zero de conduite (1933) and L'Atalante (1934) are still enveloping audiences in their hypnotic atmosphere today and leaving them sure in the knowledge that Vigo was more than a filmmaker - he was a moment in film history that will never be repeated. [For the remainder of this excellent study, click link.]
About the Director, Jean Vigo:
As the son of notorious French anarchist Eugene Bonaventure de Vigo (aka Miguel Almereyda), young Jean Vigo and his family were obliged to stay on the move, usually under assumed names. After his father was found dead in his prison cell in 1917 [“His father was strangled in his cell in Fresnes Prison on the night of 13 August 1917 — allegedly the authorities were responsible.” – Wikipedia], Vigo attended boarding school under the name Jean Sales. A tuberculosis victim, Vigo moved to Nice to recuperate in 1929. While on the mend, he directed his first film, the surrealist A propos de Nice (1930). His next project was the 11-minute Taris, a documentary about France's reigning swimming champion. Zero de conduite (1932), Vigo's third film (at 45 minutes, it was not quite a short but not exactly a feature), combined the absurd qualities of his first picture with the straight-on realities of the second. The naturalistic central setting of a dismal, restrictive boys' school is undercut with the absurdity of a pint-sized instructor, a World War I-style pillow fight, and a wish-fulfillment climactic scene in which the schoolboys pelt their adult tormentors with fruit (echoes of this film persisted in the later works of Jean-Luc Godard, Lindsay Anderson, and Francois Truffaut). Zero de conduite was perceived by the French authorities as an unpatriotic attack on the Establishment, and as such was banned until 1945. Vigo's fourth film, L'Atalante (1935), is regarded as his masterpiece. The film superbly blends realism (an unhappily married couple chugging up and down the Seine in a barge) with poetic flights of surrealism. Sadly, L'Atalante, like Zero de conduite, fell victim to the censors; its producers savagely cut the picture into incomprehensibility, arguing (as before) that its attack on the bourgeoisie was "anti-France." Penniless, Jean Vigo died of leukemia at the age of 29. His legacy has been kept alive by his filmmaking disciples, by the annual Jean Vigo Prize, and by the restored version of his chef-d'ouevre, L'Atalante.
At the time of his death, he was working on 26 film projects. For a list of them, click here.
At Alliance Française on Friday, April 10: L'Ami de mon amie / My Girlfriend's Boyfriend / Boyfriends and Girlfriends (1987) by Eric Rohmer – 102 mins – France, Comedy. English subtitles. Generally favorable reviews: 78 out of 100.
With Emmanuelle Chaulet, Sophie Renoir, Anne-Laure Meury, Eric Viellard.
Blanche has recently moved to Cergy-Pontoise, to work at the town hall. During a lunch break she meets the vivacious and immediately likeable Léa. Although not fond of sports, Léa agrees to go swimming with Blanche, at the local pool. There they meet Alexandre, one of Lea's acquaintances, along with Adrienne, his current girlfriend. Blanche finds herself under the spell of the young engineer. The holidays arrive. Léa leaves while Blanche stays on. By chance, Blanche bumps into Alexandre in the street. She clumsily tries to make a pass at him. Soon she's also bumping into Fabien, Léa's boyfriend...
– Alliance description
Roger Ebert: Rohmer knows exactly what he is doing here. He has no great purpose, but an interesting small one: He wants to observe the everyday behavior of a new class of French person, the young professionals whose values are mostly materialistic, whose ideas have been shaped by popular culture, who do not read much, or think much about politics, or have much depth.
Reelviews, James Berardinelli: The characters in Boyfriends and Girlfriends are all self-centered and shallow. They rarely speak or think about anything deeper than their feelings, and never seek anything more substantial than transitory satisfaction. They are four young yuppies - twenty-somethings who have embraced the age of materialism and self-gratification that characterized the '80s. They live in a new, sleek Parisian suburb that has none of the old world charm of the ancient city. It's modern and sterile, and the closest it gets to Paris is a distant view of the Eiffel Tower peeking up over the horizon.
In the hands of another director, Boyfriends and Girlfriends might have turned into a biting satire, but Rohmer is a sympathetic filmmaker. He never condemns his characters - he merely presents them as they are and lets the viewer decide whether or not they are deserving of affection. In this case, he shows that, despite their superficialities, they are flesh-and-blood individuals, not comic contrivances or caricatures. The little touches that make them come alive also make them compelling individuals. Ultimately, this film isn't really about much, but we are drawn into it because of the way in which the artist sketches his subject. Many important aspects of their portraits are left out, but the intriguing details incorporated are what make them fascinating.
At Alliance Française on Friday, April 17: 7 ans / 7 Years (2006) by Jean-Pascal Hattu – 82 mins – France, Drama. English subtitles. Mixed or average reviews.
With Valérie Donzelli, Pablo De la Torre, Cyril Troley, Bruno Todeschini, Nadia Kaci.
Maïté faithfully visits her sexy, intense husband Vincent, when she's spotted by a pale, pointy-faced man who says he's there to visit his brother Jean. Having been advised by her nurse friend Djamila to take a lover, she consents to mechanical sex with Jean in a car. The relationship continues and intensifies. It's not till some time later that Maïté learns Jean is a guard at the prison...
– Alliance description
Film Lounge, Neil Young: A decidedly unusual (yes, perhaps even bizarre) love-triangle develops between a prison-inmate serving some way into a seven-year sentence (Bruno Todeschini as Vincent), his guard (Cyril Troley as Jean) and his wife (Valérie Donzelli as Maïté) in this reasonably well-observed, strongly-acted, character-based drama . . . 7 Ans is undeniably well done, in a low-key, uninflected style (significant looks prove more eloquent than dialogue).