Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Jacques Tati: Pas Pour Moi

I decided recently that if I was any kind of film fan I should probably have a go on a bit of Jacques Tati, what with him being famous for making films and that. As luck would have it, the BFI have just released two of his best-loved films - Jour De Fête and Mon Oncle - on Blu-ray and DVD, so I gladly took receipt of a couple of screeners and spent half a day watching a tall Frenchman bimble about on a bike and getting into some "scrapes". It is now clear to me that I don't much care for Jacques Tati.

Jour De Fête (1949)
Jacques Tati bimbles his bicycle into a rural, chocolate-box French town on the day of their annual festival. He's the local postman but he gets involved in organising the festivities, with mildly amusing consequences which include people not getting their post and him getting drunk. The next day, spurred on by a newsreel about the efficiency of the US postal service, he decides to buck his ideas up and delivers both the post and a genuinely funny ten-minute sequence that's the highlight of the film.

While inarguably charming and mildly interesting in terms of its subtext - obsession with speed and efficiency is BAD - Jour De Fête is a little too gentle in its comedy. It's thirteen years since Chaplin tackled similar themes in Modern Times, with admittedly greater resources available than Tati, but also with far greater wit and invention.

What's historically interesting is that Tati shot Jour De Fête in black and white and colour simultaneously, although a full colour print was unavailable until 1995. Both versions are present on this release, but the colourisation process has left fine vertical lines all over large sections of the film. On the Blu-ray, they're visible enough on a large screen to be distracting, but on the lower-definition DVD they're less obtrusive. Bad Blu-ray.

Mon Oncle (1958)
Jacques Tati bimbles his bicycle into the lives of his rich, fat, awful sister and brother-in-law and takes TWO HOURS to make the point that their hi-tec house and push-button lives aren't as good as his humble, clumsy existence. There are more lovely scenes of rural French town squares where everyone has a fresh baguette under their arm, but they can't make up for the enormous stretches of the film where large amounts of nothing happen in punishingly long wide shots. Overlong and underfunny, Mon Oncle is destined to be one of those French things that I just don't get, like eating snails, closing everything down at lunchtime and failing to signpost towns properly.

And so endeth my brief flirtation with the work of Jacques Tati. I'd like to say it was fun while it lasted, but it wasn't so I can't. Jour De Fête and Mon Oncle were released in Dual Format editions from BFI on October 29th.

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