Barge Life: On Jean Vigo's "L'Atalante"

“Waves washing up against the hull, a bed and a small stove, the deck hatch sealed shut – the vessel is the ultimate dwelling.”

How to live together in cramped quarters? How to create a microcosm against hostile surroundings? In Barge Life, Florian Deroo tackles these question by looking at a mythical classic of French cinema: Jean Vigo’s 1934 film L’Atalante. A work brimming with the energies of surrealism and anarchism, L’Atalante follows a young couple, two shipmates, and a clowder of cats who dwell in the belly of a river barge. Deroo offers a wide-ranging essay on the film, revealing how it invokes a small group that withdraws from the rhythm of modern life to establish a different kind of existence elsewhere. In L’Atalante’s most riveting moments, the river barge becomes a vehicle for a powerful fantasy: a flexible collective life, lived in sensuous interdependence.

Combining film criticism, philosophy, and biography, this book reconsiders a forerunner of the French New Wave and the early death of its director. Drawing readers into the living spaces of L’Atalante, Deroo explores the allure of retreating into a self-sufficient shelter, as well as its intractable problems.