Friday, 4 February 2011

Jour de fête (1949) - Jacques Tati

Three cheers for Spegeln (English translation - the mirror), my local 'Arthouse' cinema for consistently showing films that I want to see at the cinema. Amongst other things this season they are showing all six of the films directed by Jacques Tati. So my first ever Tati film seen in a cinema is coincidentally the first feature Tati directed. It's not my favourite Tati film this, that's not to say it's a bad film, it's just that when it's older siblings are Mon Oncle and Play Time it doesn't really stand a chance if you know what I mean. Quite bizarrely this was shot simultaneously with colour and black and white film. Tati was nervous that the colour film wouldn't work, and was proved correct when Thomson (the company providing the colour film stock), went bankrupt before the film was processed. So the version shown on release was in black and white with certain elements hand tinted in colour by Tati himself. The version I saw at the cinema today was the restored colour version, which for so long was thought lost to the world. As I said three cheers for Spegeln.

Jour de fête opens with a small fairground arriving at a village in rural France. They set up in the village square and via an old woman and her goat, we are introduced to the various locals who will make us laugh for the next eighty minutes. Tati plays François the postman who after seeing a film about how efficient American postmen are, is cajoled by the villagers into trying to become more efficient. Now François delivers the post in what would be politely called a leisurely manner on his bicycle. The American postmen are shown to be the exact opposite, using every modern advancement available to them to get that letter into that letterbox. It's this storyline that is the most pleasing aspect of Jour de fête, since it's mainly Tati and a few props doing what Tati does best, making us laugh or at the very least smile. By the end of the film François has decided that the Americans and the outside world are welcome to their modernism, and he's quite happy to stick to what he knows. The final shot we see of him, is of François working in the fields, about as far away from the modern age as one can get. The film ends quite simply with the fairground packing up and leaving the village. All very circular, all very perfect.

This is the most talkie of Tati's films that I can think of. It's interesting to watch his films in order and see how he honed certain themes and ideas. The main theme that runs through Tati's work is that of the modern world and how it is encroaching on and affecting our lives. In this way he carried on from where the great Charlie Chaplin left off. Tati's films also contained less and less dialogue as his career proceeded, they are about as close to silent films as you'll find from this period. Which isn't all that surprising when you consider that Tati's background was as a mime.

One thing that Tati does far better than anyone else I can think of is the idea of a running joke. It's normally something shown quite early in the film which by the end has become so obvious, you have to wonder how you missed the build up. Repeat viewings of his films are essential for this factor alone. In Jour de fête there are numerous examples of this, from the buzzing bee on a strip of road to the wet paint that won't dry on the seats outside the local bar. As I say not the greatest Tati film, but still funny, sentimental and sweet. Comedy is always worth seeing at the cinema, the two people in the row in front of me laughed so much I almost felt bad for not finding it funnier. Almost. It came as a total shock when the lights went up and I saw just how old they were, mid seventies I'd guess. That's the other thing about Spegeln, it's one of the few places where I feel younger than most of the other clientele. It's almost worth going just for that.

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