L’Atalante (1934)

LatalanteHere is perhaps one of the greatest wedding processions we could ever hope to see. Buster Keaton is more outrageously funny in Seven Chances, but this one is solemn, and somehow still funny in its own way. And that’s what is most striking about L’Atalante (which also serves as the name of the boat of choice). This film seems so serious and strait-laced, you might say, and yet it brims with comedy. It’s the type of everyday comedy that makes us laugh even now. Funny looking characters, odd voices, a plethora of cats all over the place. There’s no way for that to get lost in translation, and it remains quirky and engaging 80 years later.

It also happens to be a beautiful film exemplified by a newly-wedded bride walking the prow of a boat with the fog billowing around her. Or perhaps it’s two lovers embracing passionately and a smile bursting on the face of the woman. It’s so visceral, so engaging in its displays of love, energy, and emotion. In this way, it brings to mind other love stories of the age like Sunrise, It Happened One Night, and certainly the early works of Jean Renoir. Except the thing here is that director Jean Vigo never made another film after L’Atalante. He entered bad health even during filming and died soon afterward in his early 30s, but he left behind a masterpiece.

In short, the story revolves around four main characters living life together on a boat named L’Atalante. Jean is the captain and groom who has picked a beautiful wife named Juliette who is going to share his existence on the sea. His first mate is the weathered and scruffy Pere Jules. He might have a rough exterior, but he and his cabin boy are full of bumbling and buffoonery that endears them to all.

For the two lovebirds, Paris is the enchanting destination for a fantastic makeshift honeymoon, but it also proves to test their relationship from the get-go, since Jean is extremely jealous and a street peddler openly flirts with Juliette. It’s a tragic turn in their love story which leads to Juliette looking for a way home and Jean sinking into a state of depression aboard his boat. That’s what makes their ultimate reunion all the sweeter.

Thus, L’Atalante blends a timeless topic like love with little moments of magic that bubble up from within these scenes. Whether it is Juliette walking the streets window shopping, or Pere Jules giving a lens into his past with all the souvenirs he has accrued over the years. Without a doubt, he was my favorite character. I have never quite seen anything like him.

4.5/5 Stars

Purple Noon (1960)

purplenoon4Right off the bat, there are two things that stick out about Purple Noon. First, you cannot help to notice the colors because the blues and reds pop like some vibrant 1960s painting. Then there’s Alain Delon who at the age of 23 made his rise to stardom, thanks to this film and Rocco and his Brothers (1960). As Tom Ripley, he finds a role that is fascinating in more ways than one.

During the first interludes of Rene Clement’s thriller, based on the Patricia Highsmith novel, I didn’t really know what I was watching or what to think. Tom was sent to Italy to bring the wealthy Phillipe Greenleaf back to San Francisco at the wishes of the man’s father who is paying Ripley. Their story begins as an entertaining jaunt through the city. They lounge at cafes, take carriage rides, and generally have fun living it up at night.

Tom is nothing like Greenleaf. He’s far poorer coming from a humbler background, but he is also much more resourceful and clever. When he takes a trip with the wealthy young man aboard his yacht, he finally hatches a plan to get what he wants. He abruptly stabs Greenleaf during a game of cards and the whole trajectory of the film changes in an instant. It began playfully absurd and quickly switches gears as a thriller involving murder, stolen identity, and deception.

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He plays up the tiff between Greenleaf and his girlfriend Marge, telling her that he is still angry and so he went off somewhere else without her. Thus, begins Ripley’s transformation into Greenleaf, forging a passport and signatures until he can pass off as the man himself. He starts dressing differently, spending more money, and continually acting as if he actually is Greenleaf. But things get difficult when he nearly runs into folks he knows, and Marge is desperate to know where her love is. These all prove problematic and yet Ripley skirts most of these entanglements with relative ease. It’s when a friend of Greenleaf’s named Freddie Miles figures out his charade that things begin to escalate because Tom’s only option seems to be murder. He commits the act coolly and plans his next move with calculated ease.

The police are after a murder, but it looks as if Tom has tied up all the loose ends and we find him relaxing reclined on the beach. He doesn’t know that the game is up, because of what the police found at sea.

The visuals of this film definitely do justice to the young Delon who is strikingly handsome with piercing eyes, but his turn is interesting in its own right because he was always so adept at playing the coolest of characters. He’s no different here and Purple Noon proved to be the initial boost to his storied career.

4/5 Stars

The African Queen (1951)

1c3a0-the-african-queen-1With the ultimate pairing of Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, this film throws together two starkly different people in extraordinary circumstances. Hepburn is a prim and proper missionary in Africa whose brother dies after a confrontation with German soldiers. Bogart is the rough-edged pilot of an old steamboat christened The African Queen. Together they take on the dangerous task of going down the river in order to sink a German ship. At first they are both at odds with each other and struggle to cope with their situation. However, with no one else to turn to, over time, they become close. Their bond is so great that they are willing to die rather than to be separated. This is truly a heartwarming story of love and loyalty with two legends who literally light up the screen.

5/5 Stars