Jean Vigo’s re-issued L’Atalante, the Deauville Festival ofAmerican Film plus Another 48 HRS and Stella. ‘
INDEX: 18 LISTINGS: WEEK ONE 29 WEEK TWO 30
wed V i go
Trevor Johnston assesses Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante, one of the
French cinema’s all-time
masterpieces, which has now been re-released in a restored and
One viewing of L 'Atalanre and this viewer is convinced that Jean Vigo remains one of the film medium‘s foremost artists and one of it’s greatest losses. He died in Paris in October 1934 of rheumatic septicaemia at the age ofonly 28. leaving behind him a celluloid legacy of less than three hour‘s worth of material. and knowing that his only feature,L 'Aralame, had been issued without his permission in barely recognisable form. recut. retitled and rescored, only two weeks before. One can only contemplate the scale of his achievement had he lived longer, but for the moment we have a beautifully restored version of L'Aralanre, pieced together out of disparate prints from the British. French and Belgian film archives to conform to Vigo’s original shooting script and to repair almost all the damage inﬂicted upon it by the film’s insensitive original distributors. Gaumont. There are, ofcourse, wondrous things in his shorter pieces. A Propos de Nice is a scathing travelogue. made in 1929. which in best Buﬁuellian fashion pointedly sends up the resort town‘s idle bourgeoisie, while Zero de Conduit,
masters at an exclusive boys‘ school. Virtually remade by Lindsay Anderson as If. . . three and a halfdecades later. the latter includes the kind of dreamily poetic setpiece. a massive pillow fight is filmed in snowstorm slow motion. where Vigo‘s unique sensibility comes to the fore.
Certainly, L'Aralanre is like no other film. From the simplest ofoutlines — young newlyweds spend their honeymoon on a barge with a crusty old captain and his crew (feline and otherwise) — Vigo creates a rich cavalcade of ever-changing
moods that switches from broad comedy to moments oftension. from surrealist visions to a
filmed four years later and weighing in at a taut 45 minutes, chronicles 3 pupils’ uprising against a midget headmaster and his showroom-dummy
celebration ofdesire between men and women. E As the alcohonc old bargee. Michel Simon is a ‘ picture ofbristly world-weariness. but the shambling drunk also cares for a troupe of kittens and keeps his own treasury ofcute plunder from across the globe. Jean Daste and Dita l’arlo as the fervent lovers share sequences of genuinely touching amorous horseplay. and the sequence chronicling their temporary estrangement. as Vigo deftly intereuts from restless booy to restless body. evokes a memorably palpable sense oferotic need without any recourse to I exploitative nudity. The viewer comes out of l L 'Aralanre wondering why so many screen love stories seem tritely over-sentimentalised candyﬂoss.
Almost incredibly. however. Gaumont. somewhat wary of Vigo‘s then burgeoning artistic reputation. kept the filmmaker on a tight leash. and although he worked wonders from a modest budget and cramped schedule (cinematographer l Boris Kaufman conjures evocative monochrome vistas from the canals of the He De France where the film was shot). Vigo was kept out of the editing room while they mauled the director‘s original cut. Only now are we seeing I. 'Atulmzre as Vigo originally intended. but it‘s hardly an exaggeration to say that the 56-year wait was
L 'Atalanre plays the Edinburgh Film/rouse from M0n17to Wed 19.817». I
‘I blew up a motor car when l was a kid,‘ boasts Christopher Monger, as it that explained the pyrotechnics in Waiting For The Light, which he wrote and directed. Actually, the vision at a car hanging 15 leet in the air embalmed in a sheet of ﬂame was only part oi his inspiration: ‘No one knew who did it,’ he recalls, ‘people in the village would say that it was an act at God.’
It's a prank of which Shirley MacLalne, as the kooky magician Aunt
Zena in the movie, would approve. She
is the sort ol prestidigltator for whom
cutting a woman in hall involves at least a tub of tomato ketchup, just to be realistic. While her neophyte nephew and niece llatterthis approach to magic with its repetition at school, their mother Kay (excellently played by Teri Barr) is rather more pragmatic, and soon has the lamily marching out west to take up residence in a country diner, bequeathed to them.
You can’t keep a good sorceress down, and MacLaine is soon back up to her tricks, but the bigger the flash the easier magic is misconstrued as a miracle, especially in the paranoia generated by the Cuban missile crisis
in 1962 America. Monger was at school I at the time, and remembers children at 3 all religions praying together. ‘That i was the point I thought “this is serious, 5 we are all going to die." When they 1 stopped worrying about which religion you belonged to.’ It is this sober parallel oi the missile crisis, played out with vintage TV clips and such wacky songs as ‘Jesus Hits Like an Atom Bomb’ which gives the lairytale plot a realistic twist. In times at crisrs lolk will always look tor a miracle cure. (Thom Dibdin) Waiting lorthe Light ('PG) trays? t nbur h Dominion rom n ep . Edi g
TEThe List 14— 27 September 1990