Commentary

The introduction emphasises very clearly the two major themes to be developed, the barge and the water, and places them in relation to each other using the structuring idea of the paradox.

1 a) The first part of the essay is devoted to the barge. The first section of the first part takes the notion of 'limited space' as its focus, announced clearly in the first sentence, and moves to the consequence of that limitation, anger, the search for fulfilment elsewhere and the deterioration of a relationship.

lb) The second section of the first part develops the idea of limited space by explaining its function as a workspace, and also develops one strand from the previous paragraph, Juliette's frustration.

too long. The lack of domesticity frustrates her as does the fact that Jean must stay up every night working. The barge for Juliette ceases to be a means of exploration and discovery, and instead becomes a stifling and monotonous place of work. When they finally arrive in Paris she is frustrated because they stay on the barge, which has become too small for her, and she longs to escape from it. Eventually, though, the real world turns out to be too big and menacing, and she is relieved to return to the safe, closed world of the barge.

The world of work and diversion from work is one world on the barge, but other worlds do exist there too. The extended cat family show how the limited space can be broken up and multiplied. There is a whole population of cats who inhabit cupboards, nooks and crannies, and, unlike the human population, can find comfort and privacy just about anywhere. As Baudelaire's favourite animals, the cats show an independence and adaptability, indeed an indifference to the décor which they colonise; this indifference, clearly an ideal, is in sharp contrast to the eventual spleen felt by Juliette and Jean. The presence of the cats, which might be taken merely as yet another oddity associated with Père Jules, is in fact more significant; they are the proof, a contrario, that even a small space can generate fantasy, as is the case with Père Jules' cabin.

Père Jules' cabin, small and cramped though it may be, contains the whole world and a whole lifetime. The artefacts and souvenirs he has gathered in his travels make his cabin an Aladdin's cave of treasures and treats for Juliette's imagination. His body's decoration, his tattoos, are an extension of this. They suggest a seedy past and are a source of wonder for Juliette. Each tattoo, like each object, has a memory and a story attached to it, and if Jean had not interrupted them, his stories could have transported lc) The third section of the first part acts as a transition to the notion of fantasy, and is anchored on an insistent image in the film: that of the cats. There is a reference to one of the major poets of the nineteenth century, which both helps to give depth to an otherwise possibly minor image, and also helps to introduce the idea of the duality between an ideal and the pain felt when that ideal cannot be attained.

Id) The final section of the first part of the essay develops the notion of freedom and imagination in opposition to the negative aspects of the barge treated in earlier sections, thus acting as a counterargument.

Juliette, in both senses of the word, taking her ecstatically all over the world. The contents of his cabin verge on the surreal and the grotesque, such as the pickled hands of his friend and the way he smokes through his bellybutton. This treasure trove of weird and exotic memorabilia is about as far removed from the mundane, day-to-day life of a barge in the north of France as anything could be. The visit to his cabin feeds Juliette's imagination, and she looks again for the same sort of escapism when she meets the pedlar and his similar assortment of gadgets and trinkets.

The water on which the barge and its inhabitants travel is equally vital; the waterway has the dual function of fluidity of fantasy and linearity of direction, or way. The water is what will take Juliette to far-away places, and she imagines it will take her to the Paris of her imagination. In reality, what she sees as a romantic waterway, an opening out, with the fluidity of fantasy, is in fact a working industrial canal, a closing in, merely a way to get from one point to the other with a burden; and the Paris it delivers her to is a grimy and threatening place. Moreover, the same water carries Jean away from her, and so leaves her stranded in this big, dangerous world.

Water functions as a symbol of dreams. If the water on which the barge journeys is an industrial canal, it is also a place where the fantastical and the fairy-tale can happen. The early shot of Juliette in her wedding dress when she appears to be walking on water is a magical, surreal image, and the slow movement of the camera from her point of view of the barge creates a sense of being helpless, of floating wherever the water may go. It carries Juliette out of the lives of her villagers to go who knows where. Jean longs to see Juliette's face in the water and, when he throws himself into the canal, his dream comes true in one of the cinema's most potent fantasy sequences; the water shows her in her wedding dress, as she was when

2a) Having completed an analysis of the negative and positive aspects of the barge, the essay now moves in its second part to a consideration of the second major theme: that of water. In this paragraph, the same structure is reprised as in part 1: we have first the negative aspects of the water.

2b) Negative aspects are followed by positive aspects, those that are linked to fantasy as opposed to daily reality.

everything was beautiful between them and all the possibilities for their life together were still real. The final shot, when the camera is high and travels along the sparkling water in slow motion, leaves the spectator with a sense that everything is still possible for Jean and Juliette, and this beautiful, endless stretch of water might yet carry them to the places of Juliette's dreams.

Throughout L'Atalante, dual emotions and situations co-exist, at times in conflict and at times in harmony. The barge and the river represent work; the barge is also a place of play and a place of fantasy and escapism. The water can be a working canal or a medium for dream and fantasy. The opening sequence in particular shows this dualism in a very visual way, with the dark clothes of the wedding guests and the bright daylight. The chiaroscuro effects of the dark clouds against the pale sky, the light on the faces of the women and children who watch the barge pass, and Juliette's almost phosphorescent dress against water so dark it cannot be distinguished from the barge. Another sequence that underlines duality is the extraordinary sequence of Jean moping on the ice block, as if Juliette's departure had caused his tears to freeze in an abstract ice statue, the opposite of the fantasy and freedom represented by unfrozen water, signifying loss and absence. Sequences of fantasy and surreal imagery are interspersed with sequences that return us to quotidian reality.

In conclusion, in both narrative and mise-en-scene, then, the film is an interplay between the real and the surreal, the ordinary and the fantastical, in which the principal settings of barge and water are central, always maintaining and never reconciling the paradoxes of human freedom and imagination that are at the heart of the film. The potency of this setting was not lost on Leos Carax some 60 years later. He

3) The paragraph announces itself as a new part, and in this final part of the essay the various themes are brought together. In this paragraph, there is an emphasis on duality, or the co-existence of fantasy and reality in each of the two major themes (barge and water). Thus, the essay has been structured in a typical ternary fashion (a + b = ab). The paragraph also shows considerable awareness of mise-en-scene, a flair for visual detail and analysis.

The conclusion, clearly announced as such, states once more the key ideas of the first paragraph, with the new twist of an unreconciled dualism (another argument could have attempted to reprised parts of this film for Les Amants du Pont-Neuf (1991), his paean to the marginality of youth during the bicentennial celebrations of 1989, where similarly long-lost lovers float away from Paris towards a future that is not uncertain, but improbably fantastical.

reconcile the paradoxes outlined in the first paragraph). Finally, the essay looks forward to a modern film as well as looking back, and shows awareness of intertextual allusions.

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