Show Us Your Tatis 

French modernist absurdism, Fridays in September at Cinefamily

Thursday, Sep 2 2010

Was any comic as fixated on (mis)perception as Jacques Tati? "Sight gag" doesn't begin to cover the worlds Tati designed: a seaside village, an ultramodernist house, a hall-of-mirrors city, all laced with playful misprision and graceful goofs. A compleat comedian-auteur like Chaplin or Jerry Lewis, Tati played his most famous character, Monsieur Hulot, with music-hall–honed agility, but also as the windswept bystander to his mass orchestrations.

While the Modernist Times fun house of Playtime comprises Tati's magnum opus, the idealized French provinces prevailed in his first two features. In Jour de fête (1949), a fussy, twitchy-mustached postman (Tati, pre-Hulot) on a bike gets drawn into a village's hectic prep for a fair. But it was with Monsieur Hulot's Holiday (1953), an international hit, that a star was born — not just Hulot, but the innovative stylistic armature of gags in long shot, sharply delineated sound design and sidewalk-café observational pacing. Tati has an affectionately zoological eye for the inn dwellers and beachgoers of a beachside resort: chattering clutches of card players ruffled by open-door drafts, a grump chucking aside every seashell his wife hands him, Hulot himself helplessly drawn to rescue a droopy ball of taffy. Visual puns (birdsong played over tennis players behind cagelike fences, a tire mistaken for a funeral wreath) encourage the viewer to play along.

Mon Oncle (1958), in which Hulot's sister keeps up appearances (and gadgets) and nudges bro into her husband's plastics factory, confirmed Tati's modernist fascination and tight control over color, score and noises as idiosyncratic as voices. Playtime (1967) was the culmination of his interests: Tati/Hulot visiting Paris' outer limits, with its International Style architecture, and ritualizing the mistake of the city newcomer, paying attention to everything, with sweetly absurd results. Specially designed by Eugene Roman, a (multimillion-franc, bankrupting) complex of glass skyscrapers, corridors and cubicles corrals Hulot — now a face in the crowd — yielding as potent a treatise on urban design as Godard's 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her through tricky perpendicular editing. (The "real" Paris is glimpsed in reflections.) This is the film that fully anoints Tati as "democratic" visionary and unsung godfather to cinema modernism. A jostling, jazzy Dionysian restaurant sequence, masterfully escalated and attended by the best bad waiters ever, sees us into dawn and a characteristic diminuendo ending.

click to enlarge Playtime
  • Playtime

Related Stories

Tati is a joy to watch throughout, an artist in motion: pipe, raincoat, stalking gait with a liquid lag, murmuring and awkwardly gallant. The top-bottom bodily disconnect is key to his stops, starts and bows; it recalls his Colette-endorsed horse-and-rider bit, on display in his nostalgic final work, Parade (1974), a joyful potpourri of filmed circus acts. It's shot on video with hangover-of-'60s garishness, and like the extraordinary long-shot detail and color of Tati's perpetually detoured 1971 "road movie," Trafic (inexplicably starring Hulot as a designer of the very thingamajigs that once flummoxed him!), the richness fills the screen and the eyes.

THE FILMS OF JACQUES TATI | Fridays in September | Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre | cinefamily.org

Related Content

Now Showing

  1. Tue 19
  2. Wed 20
  3. Thu 21
  4. Fri 22
  5. Sat 23
  6. Sun 24
  7. Mon 25

    Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

    Sponsored by Fandor

Box Office Report

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, concert and dining info & more!


  • 20 Neo-Noir Films You Have to See
    The Voice's J. Hoberman was more mixed than most on Sin City when he reviewed it in 2005, but his description of the film as "hyper-noir" helps explain why this week's release of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For has us thinking back on the neo-noir genre. Broadly speaking, neo-noir encompasses those films made outside of film noir's classic period -- the 1940s and '50s -- that nevertheless engage with the standard trappings of the genre. As with most generic labels, there isn't some universal yardstick that measures what constitutes a neo-noir film: Where the genre might begin in the '60s with films like Le Samourai and Point Blank for one person, another might argue that the genre didn't find its roots until 1974's Chinatown. Our list falls closer to the latter stance, mainly featuring works from the '80s, '90s, and 2000s. Though a number of the films mentioned here will no doubt be familiar to readers, it's our hope that we've also highlighted several titles that have been under-represented on lists of this nature. --Danny King

    See also:
    35 Music Documentaries Worth Seeing

    15 Documentaries That Help You Understand the World Right Now
  • Emmy-Nominated Costumes on Display
    On Saturday, the Television Academy and FIDM Museum and Galleries kicked off the Eighth Annual exhibition of "The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design" with an exclusive preview and reception party. 100 costumes are featured from over 20 shows representing the nominees of the 66th Emmy Awards. The free to the public exhibition is located downtown at FIDM and runs from today through Saturday, September 20th. All photos by Nanette Gonzales.
  • Cowabunga! 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
    The COWABUNGA! - 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tribute show opened Friday night at Iam8bit. Guests donned their beloved turtle graphic tees, onesies and a couple April O'Neils were there to report on all the mean, green, fighting machine action. Artist included Jude Buffum, Tony Mora, Nan Lawson, leesasaur, Jim Rucc, Mitch Ansara, Guin Thompson, Stratman, Gabe Swarr, Joseph Harmon, Alex Solis, Allison Hoffman, Jose Emroca Flores, Jack Teagle and more. All photos by Shannon Cottrell.

Now Trending