Monday, June 7, 2010

Trafic (1971)

Unseen Films has been way to serious of late. To that end we begin a week of comedies to help shake the gloom and doom.

First up is Jacques Tati's final Mr Hulot film Trafic. This is a much maligned and unloved film. I really don't know why people don't like it but I love it. It may not be the best of the Hulot films, but its a lovely human change of pace.

Tati created the character of Mr Hulot in The film Mr Hulot's Holiday. It concerns the title characters vacation by the beach over a couple of days. Its almost a throw back to silent screen comedy, as Hulot's good intentions get him deeper and deeper into trouble. Its an episodic film with the film mostly just snapshots of the vacation.

The second film in the series is called My Uncle in English. It concerns what happens when Hulot collides with his families ultra modern home. Its chaos on a grand scale.

The third film in series was Playtime. This was a huge production that was years in production. How big was it? Tati built part of Paris on a vacant lot...oh and did I mention he built it so that the buildings could turn to face the sun? It was epic in every way and when it was released in 70mm it ran some two and a half hours. It bombed and Tati was forced to cut it down. (I've read several books on Tati and each spends a great deal of time on just this one production) To be fair its a good film but its wildly atypical, in that often the funny bit is not what's in the foreground but the back and many bits require a second or third viewing before they produce belly laughs. I'll be doing an entry on this film at a later time because it's a film requiring its own entry.

After Playtime, Tati, who was tired of Hulot, was forced to make a film fast and cheap because he was broke so as a result he came up with Trafic because he could het money for a Hulot film.

Unfortunately it too bombed.

Worse, its a film not many people have seen which is a shame because its a lovely little film.

The plot of the film has Hulot working for car company that is about to unveil their newest car, a station wagon that was built for camping. Hulot packs the car on a flat bed and with his team they head across country to the European Car show for the big reveal. Unfortunately nothing goes as planned and things begin to go worse and worse.

There aren't huge belly laughs in this film, but there are tons of quiet chuckles and knowing smiles. Its a film that feels very much like life. Its like watching events unfold on a Sunday afternoon. It's a film that stands in contradiction to the previous Hulot film, Playtime, in that this is a film with a warm feeling for people. Everyone has a real character, even Hulot who takes a step away from being the prop around which things happen. That was the problem in the previous two films, for me, namely Hulot was little more than a prop and window dressing, the other characters were the real stars, but here he becomes a real participant. He is a human. Not to give anything away, but the film ends with the most amazing thing in the entire series, Hulot walking down a flight of stairs into a subway with a woman. Its not a gag but a real human connection that is actually lacking from the three previous features.

I know I've been talking about the earlier films as if they mean something, but honestly they don't. The first time I saw this film I watched it with my Dad who had not seen any of the previous films and he liked it just fine. Actually he liked it so much I had to re-watch the earlier films with him. After he had done through the previous films he wanted to see this again because it was so much more alive than than the other films. It's a film, as my dad said, about people and not ideas or jokes.

This is a lovely little film that you really need to see.

Currently out on DVD everywhere, the film is about to be withdrawn from US release as a Criterion DVD and its going to be released by a different company, sans all the really neat Criterion extras.

However you see it, just see it. It will make you chuckle and it will make you feel good.

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