Waterways & Cabarets (50 All-Time Greatest Films)

50 Days 50 Films…One a Day for 50 Straight Days: My All-Time 50 Favorite Films

(Just a single rule: mix-tape-style, no more than one film per director. You know, because otherwise the whole thing would be pointless.)

(#40) L’Atalante


Romance     •     dir. Jean Vigo     •     1934     •     France

L'Atalante
My dad is a prodigious reader. One day, aged about 16, I rifled through some boxes full of his old books, up in the loft. One slender paperback, in particular, caught my eye: a yellowing Penguin Books edition of The Trial by Franz Kafka. It had one of those iconic, minimalist Penguin covers: two solid bands of orange, top and bottom, and a band of cream in between containing exactly two pieces of information – title and author’s name. On the inside front cover was a brief description of the book, which asked as many questions as it answered, and inside the back-cover a black and white photograph of its author, looking inscrutable but also directly at the camera. Everything about the book commanded my attention. I wanted to know who Kafka was, and I couldn’t wait to start finding out.

According to that inside-cover description, The Trial was a “phantasmagoria.” What did that even mean? Of course, I looked it up: (noun) A shifting medley of real or imagined figures, as in a dream. I still remember vividly what it was like to hold this extraordinary book in my hands. It was intoxicating – I had discovered hidden treasure and now its riches were laid out before me, gleaming once again. Maybe only one time since have I felt a similar rush of sensations: sitting down for the first time in front of Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante. If you haven’t already, I urge you to watch it. Set mostly on a French canal barge in and around 1930s Paris, it is a beautiful and strange glimpse into a disappearing world. A story about young love – wild, faltering, and tender – made by a brilliant young filmmaker who died shortly after, at the age of 29. A phantasmagoria.


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About newjonnytransit

Same as ever, only better.
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One Response to Waterways & Cabarets (50 All-Time Greatest Films)

  1. Pingback: All Things Said & Done (50 All-Time Greatest Films) | The New Jonny Transit Blog

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