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Western Animation / Rowing Across the Atlantic

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Rowing Across the Atlantic (La Traversée de l'Atlantique à la rame) is a 1978 animated short film (21 minutes) from France, directed by Jean-François Laguionie.

A French married couple set out in a rowboat in 1907, presumably to cross the ocean back to France. They aren't dressed very appropriately; the husband wears a suit and the wife wears a formal dress. Even more incredibly, they carry a harp and a clarinet that they play, in the rowboat, out in the open ocean.

In Real Life people who row across the Atlantic Ocean (it has been done) do it in six weeks to three months, but the man and the woman spend years, then decades, out at sea. They fight, and make up, and grow old, out together in the Atlantic.


  • Allegory: It's ambiguous, but it seems the film is an allegory about married life and growing old together. The couple in the rowboat don't seem to be trying very hard to get anywhere, and obviously one couldn't spend 23 years (at least) out in the ocean in a rowboat. And much of what happens, like how the rowboat doesn't go anywhere when the couple are angry at each other and row in different directions, seems like commentary on marriage.
  • Bathtub Scene: During a surreal sequence that may be a dream, at one point the couple is rowing a bathtub, with the man at the oars while the woman lounges naked in the tub.
  • Black Comedy: The scene where the wife takes an oar and calmly, methodically cracks the skulls of all the RMS Titanic victims who are trying to climb into their rowboat. One man is still wearing a top hat when he swims up to the boat, only for the woman to whack him on the head three times, gradually flattening his top hat.
  • Clip-Art Animation: Animated in a simple style using paper cutouts.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The film opens with the abandoned rowboat washing up on a beach, confirming that the man and woman will not make their crossing successfully.
  • How We Got Here: The film opens with an abandoned rowboat washing up on a beach somewhere and slowly getting covered in sand. Then the story proper opens with the couple setting out from New York in a rowboat.
  • The Ken Burns Effect: Some shots are actually pans and zooms on still images, like a shot that starts with a close-up on the man and woman and their boat, on the dock in New York, before zooming out.
  • Limited Animation: A simple style that uses Clip-Art Animation on simple backgrounds, sometimes limited even further to stills with pans and zooms.
  • "Pan from the Sky" Beginning: The opening shot shows seagulls flying around in the sky, before the camera pans down and shows the abandoned rowboat as it washes up on a beach.
  • Surrealism: It starts out with a sort of dreamlike unreality, with the couple spending years on end out in a rowboat, calmly playing music on their harp and clarinet when obviously they should be dead. Things get odder and odder from there. There's a hallucinatory sequence where the woman turns into a mermaid while the man turns into a seagull from the waist up—they're about to have sex in that form when they change back into people, and she slaps him and pushes him off. Then they find a casino in a platform out in the middle of the ocean, and the casino seems to be in the 18th century, what with all the frilly pantaloons and powdered wigs that people are wearing. And if that isn't surreal enough, all the guests and musicians at the casino pull off masks and reveal themselves to be skeletons.
  • Time-Passage Beard: In the last scene the man and woman have both had their hair turn white, and the man is sporting a long beard.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The couple are only mildly interested to see the Titanic sink. The woman writes in the journal that last night, they saw something very sad, but "this morning the fog went away and it's sunny again."
  • Verbing Nouny: Rowing Across the Atlantic