Jacques Tati

Jour de fête (1949, Jacques Tati)

It’s about fifteen minutes before lead (and director) Jacques Tati appears in Jour de fête. The film opens with a travelling fair arriving at its destination and starting to set up. Paul Frankeur and Guy Decomble are the two main fair workers–actually they’re the only fair workers with anything to do except Santa Relli as Decomble’s wife. Besides starting to set up the merry-go-round, Decomble has time to make eyes at local girl Maine Vallée. Delcassan plays another resident, an old woman who narrates the goings on for the benefit of the audience–and, presumably, the goat she’s always got with her. The device is rather charming. Tati usually employs long shots, letting the action play out gradually, individual elements building until they intersect–for example, Tati, as actor, gets introduced in dialogue when Relli sends Decomble to mail a letter instead of making eyes at Vallée.

Jean Yatove’s music perfectly accompanies the gentle action.

Tati–as actor–arrives as some men are trying to put up a pole for the fair. Decomble and Frankeur are on the sidelines, offering unhelpful commentary, then draft Tati into action. He’s a bicycle postman, he gets around, he should know how to put up a pole. For most of the film, Jour is a series of intricately connected vingettes. Tati and cowriters Henri Marquet and René Wheeler occasionally pause one vignette to move on to another–Tati’s postman is easily distracted, whether by putting up a pole or getting blasted at the café, making the movements organic.

There’s a lot of physical comedy and callbacks to previous gags. Tati introduces himself biking into town and battling a bee. As he moves, in the distance, across the frame, the bee jumps forward to pester the farmer who’s in the foreground of the shot, before returning to Tati as the bicycle moves past the farmer. There’s a lot of subtle, inventive shots. There are also some obvious sight gags, which usually work–and manage to be charming thanks to the filmmaking and, particularly, the music–but are still kind of cheap.

After introducing Tati’s postman and getting the fair setup on track, the film jumps ahead a bit–with Delcassan offering some more commentary–as the townspeople head to square for the fair, which includes a cinema. The cinema becomes important later. Before it does, however, there’s a lot more with Tati. He can’t refuse the multiple invitations to drink at the café, culminating in Decomble and Frankeur–in a genial malice–getting him incredibly drunk. Sober, Tati’s postman is scatterbrained. Blasted, he’s wholly incompetent.

In between some of the drinking, Tati sees a short film in the cinema showing the U.S. postal service, which implements all the latest technology to deliver the mail. Latest technology like helicopters and skydivers and stunt motorcycles. How can the French compete. Especially since Tati spends the rest of the day in the bar before heading out at night to finish his deliveries. The townspeople have gone to bed, leading to multiple complications, before Tati just passes out drunk.

The next day, however, he’s invigorated and ready to show off how fast he can deliver the post. No surprise, Decomble and Frankeur have given him multiple bad ideas on how he can increase his efficiency.

Tati’s wild ride–which includes some incredible physical comedy and elaborate action direction–happens about an hour into the film’s ninety minute runtime. It doesn’t take the whole last third, but most of it. It’s always inventive, always amusing (or better), but somewhat detached from the rest of the film. Jour’s no longer about the townspeople or the fair, now it’s all Tati and the hyper-speed mail delivery.

Tati, as director, brings it all together for the finish but far less organically than anything else in the picture. The long sequence works–Tati’s hitting familiar places populated by now familiar faces–but it doesn’t fit with the rest. The wrap-up is well-executed, effective, closes all the open threads, but is far from seamless. It treats Tati’s wild ride as a tangent, while the rest of the film built up to the wild ride as though it were the intended result.

So a disjointed–while still more than adequate–finish.

Wonderful direction from Tati throughout. Great composition, great pacing, whether he’s setting up for comedy or narrative–though, really, it’s always both. Mostly excellent cinematography from Jacques Mercanton and Jacques Sauvageot. The day-for-night is somewhat lacking but the content makes up for it. Similarly, Marcel Morreau’s editing only has any hiccups when they’re trying to get goats and chickens to behave.

Jour de fête is superb. Sure, the last third has its problems, but they’re masterfully, sublimely executed problems.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tati; written by Tati, Henri Marquet, and René Wheeler; directors of photography, Jacques Mercanton and Jacques Sauvageot; edited by Marcel Morreau; music by Jean Yatove; produced by Fred Orain and André Paulvé; released by DisCina.

Starring Jacques Tati (François), Guy Decomble (Roger), Paul Frankeur (Marcel), Jacques Beauvais (Bondu), Santa Relli (Germaine), Maine Vallée (Jeannette), and Delcassan (Old biddy).


Mon Oncle (1958, Jacques Tati)

Mon Oncle has a concerning amount of narrative. Way too much of the film is about Jean-Pierre Zola and Adrienne Servantie’s bourgeois ultra-modern couple fretting over their son’s affection for his uncle, played by writer-director Tati.

Tati’s protagonist does not live in the automated home of Zola and Servantie, but in a quainter, more traditional part of the city. There are these lovely sequences–Suzanne Baron’s editing and Jean Bourgoin’s photography are magnificent–with a pack of dogs running between new and old. It’s one of Tati’s best repetitions in the film.

The story takes place over a few days (or at least gives that impression). Over that time, Zola gets so fed up with Tati, things just have to change. Except all of these exasperating situations are contrived, whether it’s Zola trying to get Tati a job multiple times or Servantie trying to set him up with a woman. The nephew, played by Alain Bécourt, follows Tati around but they don’t have a relationship. The film’s best relationship is probably Tati and his young neighbor, Betty Schneider. She’s becoming a young woman (and does by the end of the film, which makes no sense since it takes place over a few days) and their relationship is adorable.

Uncle goes on and on, with Tati filling the lackluster second half with lots of somewhat cheap gags. He never uses Henri Schmitt’s sets to full potential.

The first half’s good, but when it needs to progress, it flops.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Jacques Tati; screenplay by Tati, based on a story by Tati, Jacques Lagrange and Jean L’Hôte; director of photography, Jean Bourgeon; edited by Suzanne Baron; music by Franck Barcellini and Alains Romans; production designer, Henri Schmitt; released by Gaumont.

Starring Jacques Tati (Monsieur Hulot), Jean-Pierre Zola (Charles Arpel), Adrienne Servantie (Madame Arpel), Alain Bécourt (Gerard Arpel), Lucien Frégis (Monsieur Pichard), Betty Schneider (Betty, Landlord’s Daughter), Jean-François Martial (Walter), Dominique Marie (Neighbor), Yvonne Arnaud (Georgette) and Adelaide Danieli (Madame Pichard).


Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1953, Jacques Tati)

A certain amount of Mr. Hulot’s Holiday is pure slapstick. Except it’s slapstick through director Tati’s decidedly careful lensing. Tati holds the shot on the slapstick punchline a beat too long, giving the viewer time to consider the joke, the punchline, and his or her amusement. Far from condemning slapstick, Tati shows how it would function in “real life.”

Without Tati’s Hulot moving through the film, set in a small beachfront vacation town (principally the adventures of one hotel’s tourists, along with some renting a house nearby), the world would lack anything fantastical. But with Tati bumbling about? Regardless of whether the guests appreciate it, he makes their visit far more memorable.

From the guest perspective–Tati, as director, mostly follows Nathalie Pascaud’s attractive young woman who gets attention from all the fellows but finds Tati a calmer companion–Holiday is about social mores laid atop this beautiful getaway location. The cost of modern tranquility. The guests aware of these constraints–Pascaud, Valentine Camax’s Englishwoman (who thinks Tati’s a hoot), René Lacourt’s patient husband character–slowly become the core supporting cast. There are a lot of memorable characters, but Tati concentrates on the ones who can see the seams on their social agreements.

Besides some bigger set pieces, Tati also has some great small ones. Almost everything at the hotel is standout, with Tati gleefully introducing chaos into an otherwise controlled setting. His success juxtaposing Pascaud with his own character is breathtaking.

Gorgeous score from Alain Romans.

Holiday is divine.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tati; written by Tati and Henri Marquet; directors of photography, Jacques Mercanton and Jean Mousselle; edited by Suzanne Baron, Charles Bretoneiche and Jacques Grassi; music by Alain Romans; production designers, Roger Briaucourt and Henri Schmitt; produced by Fred Orain; released by Discifilm.

Starring Jacques Tati (Monsieur Hulot), Nathalie Pascaud (Martine), Micheline Rolla (The Aunt), Louis Pérault (Fred), André Dubois (Commandant), Suzy Willy (Commandant’s Wife), René Lacourt (Strolling Man), Marguerite Gérard (Strolling Woman), Raymond Carl (Waiter) and Valentine Camax (Englishwoman).


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THIS POST IS PART OF THE BEACH PARTY BLOGATHON HOSTED BY RUTH OF SILVER SCREENINGS and KRISTINA OF SPEAKEASY.


Forza Bastia (2002, Jacques Tati and Sophie Tatischeff)

Forza Bastia chronicles a day in Bastia (France). A Corsican island. It’s an important day because it’s April 26, 1978, when Bastia (the soccer team) played PSV Eindhoven. Bastia was an obscure team and the first leg (I had to learn soccer terms) was a tie at zero.

Jacques Tati shot Bastia at the time, but never finished editing it. His daughter, Sophie Tatischeff, came in and fixed it. The result is a very uneven, very long (twenty-seven minutes) collection of footage. If Tatischeff did carry through with Tati’s intent, then he intended Bastia to be boring and not insightful.

It’s about a big deal football match. Of course people are going to be acting weird. Nowhere in any of the footage does Tati (or does Tatischeff) find any moments of real human observation. It’s all obvious, even the quirky stuff.

Forza Bastia should’ve been shorter, would’ve been better.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tati and Sophie Tatischeff; written by Tati; directors of photography, Yves Agostini, Henri Clairon and Alain Pillet; edited by Florence Bon and Tatischeff.


Evening Classes (1967, Nicolas Ribowski)

Evening Classes is a bit of a surprise; without Jacques Tati’s involvement, the short would almost work more as an examination of his films. With his involvement, Classes certainly has some outstanding moments, but director Ribowski and Tati (who also wrote the short) don’t really have a point.

The film opens with Tati as M. Hulot seemingly bumbling into a classroom, but no–he’s actually the instructor and a good one. He’s teaching an improv or mime class, except in the context of Tati’s films, it’s more like a look inside his process on those other films.

Without a familiarity with Tati’s work (Classes, shot on the same sets as Playtime, ends with a big reference to that film), the short goes on a little too long. Tati’s examples of smoking, tennis and fishing are all phenomenal. The horseback riding and postal worker stuff? Too much.

It’s successful, if problematic.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Nicolas Ribowski; written by Jacques Tati; director of photography, Jean Badal; edited by Nicole Gauduchon; music by Léo Petit.

Starring Jacques Tati (M. Hulot).


Keep Your Left Up (1936, René Clément)

Keep Your Left Up is a genial little short set in a small French country town. The arrival of the postman sets off the short, which eventually has local do-nothing Jacques Tati in the ring against boxer Louis Robur.

The charm comes mostly from the setting, Clément’s excellent composition and Jean Yatove’s oddly mismatched score. Left doesn’t have any ambient sound when the music plays; just Yatove’s music and the occasional line of dialogue or sound effect gives the short a detached quality. But detached in a charming way (it’s hard to fault anything technical with the film–Clément’s composition would make up for anything).

Tati’s appealing as the lead, but he doesn’t have much to do. He handles the physical comedy fine, though a lot of it seems to be through the editing.

Only real problem? The continuity gaffes. They’re distracting. Otherwise, Left amuses all the way through.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Réne Clément; written by Jean-Marie Huard; music by Jean Yatove; produced by Fred Orain.

Starring Jacques Tati (Roger), Max Martel (Postman), Louis Robur (Boxer), Jean Aurel (Kid), Champel (Manager) and Van der Haegen (Sparring Partner).


Fun Sunday! (1935, Jacques Berr)

It takes Fun Sunday! almost the entire short film to find its footing. The problem is director Berr; he has no comic timing. Sunday cuts a couple corners as far as budget–the sound cuts in and out, going over to music and not the background noise–but it’s rather ambitious stuff. Except for Berr. He doesn’t have any ambition.

Writers and stars Jacques Tati and Rhum, however, have lots of ambition. They do an alternative on the classic comic duo–instead of playing off each other, they play off the environment. Rhum has more to do, just because he has the magic tricks (which Berr really can’t shoot).

Just when Sunday seems to be winding down, Tati and Rhum get in one good gag after another and bring it to a great finish. Even with Berr screwing the beautifully lighted shots (Fun Sunday!’s uncredited cinematographer does some excellent work).

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Berr; written by Jacques Tati and Rhum.

Starring Jacques Tati and Rhum.


Brute Wanted (1934, Charles Barrois)

Quite a bit of Brute Wanted is rather funny. The whole idea is funny–dimwitted, failing actor (Jacques Tati) goes for an audition and it turns out he’s agreeing to wrestle a musclebound Russian grotesque. Tati’s got a nagging wife (Hélène Pépée) who also manages him.

A lot of the short is spent on the fight promoters. Tati and co-writer Alfred Sauvy exercise brevity with their exposition when it comes to Pépée and Tati’s situation so the fight promotion scenes just go too long. And so does the wrestling match, with Tati hilariously trying to avoid his opponent.

Barrois’s direction is never on par with the script’s humor, but it’s usually adequate. In the wrestling match, not so much. Barrois loses track of Tati, who’s holding Brute together, and spends it on his scheming friend, played by Rhum.

These problems are tolerable. But the final joke? Cruel and unfunny.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Charles Barrois; written by Jacques Tati and Alfred Sauvy; music by Marcel Landowski.

Starring Jacques Tati (Mr. Roustabat), Hélène Pépée (Mrs. Roustabat), Rhum (Mr. Mérandol) and Kola Kwariani (Krotov the Tartar).


The School for Postmen (1947, Jacques Tati)

There’s a lot of physical humor in The School for Postmen. Not falling down or stumbling or whatnot, but Tati setting up elaborate physical action–for example, a bicycle getting away from its rider, who gives chase.

Tati plays the rider, a provincial postman, who shortcuts the bicycling postmen’s rules. Some of these shortcuts are ingenious, some are stupid. He suffers accordingly. But the joke’s never on him. The supporting cast are, by and large, uncaring and unobservant. Tati never judges, but it’s clear the postman isn’t selfish, regardless of being a goofball.

The short has a nice, fast open, starting with a training session, followed by the postman’s initial, ingenious shortcut. But the mail delivery scene starts to drag and the bike getting off on its own rights the pacing.

Some of the inventive direction is deceptively skillful; other times it’s obvious Tati’s masterful.

Postmen is great filmmaking.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jacques Tati; director of photography, Louis Félix; edited by Marcel Morreau; music by Jean Yatove; produced by Fred Orain; released by Cady Films.

Starring Jacques Tati (Postman) and Paul Demange (Chief Postman).


Play Time (1967, Jacques Tati)

Play Time opens as an attack on modernity worthy of George Amberson Minafer, dealing with the personality-free office place populated by cubicles, to the lines of similarly dressed men on their ways home after work or the same type of men all getting into the same kind of car after their work day. There’s some great stuff about television and how, of a collection of people living in the same apartment building, it is the thing they have most in common. The film, in scenic description of the first half, sounds more like a feature article in Harper’s discussing the “American Idol” phenomenon than anything else.

The film is split into two distinct sections. The beginning, featuring Tati’s M. Hulot’s adventures in a modern office building, these adventures juxtaposed with the experiences of a young America woman in a tourist group. She and Hulot meet over and over and Tati presents her in a particular light. She sees something wondrous when everyone else is too busy to look. M. Hulot’s adventures are quite different, more a comedy of errors, with frequent mistaken identities. Then the city goes dark and turns on the lights and the focus moves to a nightclub, opening for business when it’s not at all ready. Both Hulot and the American tourist end up at the nightclub and, after the incredibly impersonal, alienated world of the first forty-five minutes, Play Time slowly becomes celebratory of people. The nightclub scene brings together all of Play Time‘s characters and lets them get to know each other. Except the television people, Tati’s abandoned them.

I’d forgotten the nightclub scene. I remembered much of the film following that long sequence, but I didn’t remember any of the actual club scene, which is odd, since it’s the most important part of the picture. It’s here Tati gets to present his case–while the nightclub staff are frantic to create that alienating environment for the characters of the first part, they hadn’t counted on M. Hulot, who innocently brings the whole thing down. Thanks to him, the construction workers are drinking with the oil millionaires and the drunks off the street are drinking with the white collar drunks. All while the nightclub staff tries to keep the place from falling apart, while it becomes obvious entropy is what the people are looking for anyway.

The end–the nightclub changing the world–becomes a celebration of modernity. We see the world through something a lot like the American tourist would see it. The beauty in the cityscape. Still, while Playtime is Tati’s finest work I’ve seen, it’s also his least accessible. It doesn’t just require patience or listening, Tati uses the entire frame to tell his story and he only gives the viewer a few seconds to adjust to the frame’s contents. The viewer has to pay real attention, or he or she will miss something important. While the nightclub scene is a little less intensive, it’s definitely an active viewing experience.

Play Time is a profound piece of work and one of the times the five hundred odd words of a Stop Button post simply aren’t enough.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tati; written by Tati and Jacques Lagrange, with additional English dialogue by Art Buchwald; directors of photography, Jean Badal and Andreas Winding; edited by Gerard Pollicand; music by Francis Lemarque; production designer, Eugene Roman; produced by Bernard Maurice; released by Specta Films.

Starring Jacques Tati (Monsieur Hulot), Barbara Dennek (Young Tourist), John Abbey (Mr. Lacs), Tony Andal (Page Boy), Yves Barsacq (Hulot’s Friend), Valérie Camille (Mr. Lacs’s Secretary), France Delahalle (Shopper in Department Store), Erika Dentzler (Mme. Giffard), Léon Doyen (Doorman), Yvette Ducreux (Hat Check Girl), Georges Faye (Architect), André Fouché (Restaurant Manager), Michel Francini (1st Maitre D’), Jack Gauthier (The Guide), Grégoire Katz (German Salesman), Billy Kearns (Mr. Schultz), Reinhard Kolldehoff (German Businessman), Jacqueline Lecomte (Young Tourist’s Friend), Rita Maiden (Mr. Schultz’s Companion), Marc Monjou (False Hulot), Georges Montant (Mr. Giffard), Laure Paillette (1st Woman at the Lamp), Henri Piccoli (An Important Gentleman), Colette Proust (2nd Woman at the Lamp), Nicole Ray (Singer) and France Rumilly (Woman Selling Eyeglasses).


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