In life, as on the water, you make a course but can sometimes go where the winds and tides take you. I think of L’ATALANTE a lot in that respect, since I’ve had plans and even tickets to see screenings of it but always been thwarted. Even when it cam time to write this post, I had plans and mapped my course, but life just…took me elsewhere.

We can make all the plans we want, but ultimately we are in the hands of forces bigger than us. Love and marriage are no exception to that statement.

L’ATALANTE is a story of new love. As the story begins, Jean and Juliette get married in a small French village. As they leave the wedding chapel, they lead a procession of the townspeople towards the river docks, where Jean’s boat – the titular L’Atalante – is moored.

The couple are going to live on it together, surrounded by Jean’s crew as the vessel runs shipments around France. The couple share their newlywed bliss with the crew, striving to strike a balance naval journeys and wedded joy. They often have to allow for third or fourth wheels, as the crew often wants to play a hand in showing Juliette what life has to offer.

Eventually, the couple disembark the barge in Paris and manage to get both in a lovers quarrel, and eventually themselves separated. Jean returns to the boat in a snit, and casts off, leaving his bride behind. Juliette, unaware that she has been abandoned, continues to soak up Paris for a while, before realizing just how impulsive her new husband can be.

While she tries to get herself sorted in Paris, he wonders how he’ll find his way back to her.


Dita Parlo in L'Atalante


What’s beautiful and fascinating about L’ATALANTE is its portrayal of an old-world marriage. This story is set in a time and place when everything about marriage would have been new. Juliette and Jean would have learned everything about each other the hard way – from how clean or messy they are, to how they prefer to make supper. Theirs was a wedding where the whole town escorted them from the church…and the whole crew wished them a happy life together.

Compare that to a modern relationship. By the time many couples make their vow nowadays, they know damned near everything there is to know about each-other. Is one version of marriage better than the other? More authentic? More committed?

A woman I know once confessed to me that she didn’t feel like she knew what being married felt like, since just two months into her marriage, her husband got very sick. Though he survived the illness, he fell into a depression that cost them the relationship. They were together five years in total, but legally wed for only twenty-six months. Is she correct? Are her opinions on married life invalid?

In the age of L’ATALANTE, we wouldn’t think twice. Put on the white dress, exchange the rings, go learn what being married is about. These people were younger than many of us are when we wed now. They knew less about themselves, each-other, and the world. And yet, we’d never consider their thoughts on marriage invalid because they got off to a bumpy start, or skidded towards the end. We wouldn’t say “Oh, you don’t know!” if they lost their spouse in short order, as so many did.

The nature of marriage has changed so drastically over the years, and I might go so far as to say that there are some who now know a great deal about it without ever getting married – and others who haven’t the first clue even after their seventh anniversary.


Juliette and Pere


There’s an interesting flight of fancy that gets referenced a few times in this film; an old legend that if you hold your face in the water, you will see your true love.

On the one hand, it’s a charming thought – and one that holds a kernel of truth for anyone who’s ever been in love. Let your head swim for a moment, allowing the chaos of the world to fall away, and odds are your mind’s eye will find the person you are most-deeply drawn towards. It can also be seen as one of those romantic notions, that we all have an idea in our head of who we are intended for even if we haven’t met them yet.

Seeing it used in L’ATALANTE, though, I like to believe that it speaks to people in love leading with their heart. That of the need to find their way back to someone; traverse a great distance either physical or emotional. What’s more, we ourselves might be what’s preventing truly seeing the person we most need and want, and only by taking a leap of faith can we get out of our own way. Only by blocking out all of the exterior noise and chaos can we fins what is truly important.

There’s still evidence of this that we do to this day; people who swear by immersing in a tub and succumbing to sensory deprivation to achieve true clarity of thought. Perhaps what the crew of L’Atalante believed was seeing one’s true love was just a forbearer to that?


See Your Wife in The Water


L’Atalante spends most of its journeys sailing across rivers and canals. It makes for an interesting visual metaphor. The current reminds us that the water is perpetually in motion, and yet there is a calmness to it. It’s an element with great power and potential energy, and yet there is a serenity to the rhythm of the rapids.

It’s like love, I suppose.

Two hearts devoting themselves to one-another brings together a high amount of passions and persuasions, and yet, from a distance, many see the union as something beautiful, peaceful, life-affirming, and powerful. Beneath the surface, there may be swells and wreckage…but to the casual observer, the bringing together of two souls presents the power and potential energy to face so very much life brings.

Truly, Jean and Juliette could have just boarded L’Atalante and quietly ridden it wherever the tide took them. But it’s seeing them try to stem the tide and even allow themselves to drown that completes the metaphor. Marriage is all about stepping aboard, and trying to harness time and tide. The sailing may be smooth, or the vessel may be scuttled…so only the bravest set sail.

Doesn’t matter whether that voyage lasts a day or a decade.  All that does matter is that women and men gather with the partners they trust most, and cast off from shore.



I usually post Blind Spot entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.


Here’s the round-up for September…


Erin watched THE BLUE ANGEL

Simoa watched MALCOLM X




Brittani watched JACKIE BROWN