L’Atlantide (1921)


  • directed by Jacques Feyder
  • starring Jean Angelo, Georges Melchior, Stacia Napierkowska, Marie-Louise Iribe, Abd-el-Kader Ben Ali, Mohamed Ben Noui
  • Lured to a hidden palace by Queen Antinea, descendant of the king of Atlantis, Saint-Avit and Morhange become pawns in a deadly quest for immortality.

Also known as Missing Husbands or Queen of Atlantis, Jacques Feyder’s Sahara-set epic mythological adventure was an early example of a director going to great and arduous lengths to achieve realistic on-location shooting. Eight months the production spent in the not so accommodating terrain of the Algerian desert. Even the grand palace of Atlantis interiors were constructed in large tents on location. Having the gorgeous and intimidating desert landscape as a background definitely paid off visually. One of the strongest aspects of the film was the scenery, along with the rich source material of Pierre Benoit’s novel, and Feyder’s delicate and patient touch in letting the fate of the French officers slowly unfold before finally exploding in the final third.

The desert itself also contributed to heightening the overwhelming mysterious air of much of the film. Throughout the majority of their journey toward the trap of Atlantis, Saint-Avit and Morhange, and in turn we the viewers, have a ton more questions than there are answers. Feyder was also able to capture in a visible way the effect that the conditions were having on the psyches of these two ill-fated men. Drugs were taken, hallucinations were had, color shifts accented the many moods, and flashbacks upon flashbacks, a rare occurrence at the time, added depth and complexity to the story. It was a very heady film when it wanted to be.

For two hours it was a slow and deliberate work of gorgeous photography, sophisticated compositions, tense mood, and thick foreboding. It all looked great, was saturated in mystery, and was headed downhill to some dark territory, that much was clear. And then the moment happens, Saint-Avit finally relents to the lustful and corrupting Queen, and the pace picks up, the characters get wild and desperate, and the story screams along before neatly arriving at something of a serene and triumphant-feeling conclusion.

With L’Atlantide, Feyder had made a statement that French cinema wasn’t just going to deal in impressionism or the relatively quaint stories that would become the poetic realism movement, a style in which he was also instrumental. Instead, like Hollywood, there would also be epic feats of big-budget ambitious filmmaking emerging from the country. If the argument is movies as a crowd-pleasing spectacle versus art then I would say this toed the line quite nicely. There was a lot of experimentation going on for a film that cost millions to make and had the added hurdle of taking place in the harsh desert. It was far from a perfect film, but it had plenty of spectacular aspects, an expert eye behind the camera, and it was great enough on the whole to connect with a wide range of international audiences.


About classixquest
all the things I should have seen

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