Directed by: Jacques Tati
Countries & Regions: France
Studio: Studio Canal
Length: 87 mins
Region: Region 2
Released: 10 November 2014
Cat No: OPTD2782
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Jour de Fête
One of Jacques Tati’s most famous comedies, and his directorial debut. After observing the high-speed efficiency of the American postal... Read More
A delicately tinted picture postcard from another age, an (intended) injection of colour and gaiety into postwar France, a satire on American postwar speed and efficiency, a showcase for a brilliant physical comedian's slapstick routines - Jacques Tati's feature debut, Jour de Fete, is an all-round charm.
It sees the fair come to a rural town in la France profonde. In between the townsfolk's casual flirtations, their dressing-up, rides on the merry-go-round and drinking and dancing to the pianola in the bar, Tati's Francois, the local postman, peeps with a colleague through the curtain of a film show about American postal workers' daredevil antics. From then on, his watchword (notwithstanding a woozy, boozy night slept off in a cattle truck) is rapidité!. He careers around the lanes on his bicycle, scattering farmyard animals and racing cyclists and getting held up by cows, pigs, people and wet tarmac while his letters are ever more haphazardly delivered (if at all) - down wells, in hats, on pitchforks and even beneath a horse's tail. However, his new-found ardour is soon cooled by a high-speed dunk in the canal, after which he regains his more measured rural pace, ending by going to help out with the family harvest as he watches the fair leave and a youngster finishes his round.
Jour de Fete was to have been the first French film to be shot in 'a new French colour process' - Thomsoncolor - and though it is the main print now used here, it was for many years (until 1995 in fact) unrecoverable - a tragedy given how central colour was to Tati's conception of the film. Thankfully, Tati also shot a black and white version of the film with a back-up camera and it was this how the film was originally released in 1949. Then in 1964, Tati revisited the film, adding a new character in the form of a visiting painter (his cravat and drainpipe jeans out of style with the film's setting), who - thanks to the 'Scopochrome process' that enabled Tati to oversee the addition of dabs of colour to the print - literally paints some colour into scenes of the fair. 'That's better, it's beginning to come alive,' says the painter. This 1964 version, new to this DVD/Blu-ray, has numerous slight differences throughout but more significantly it also has English narration, written by playwright NF Simpson and read by David Saire, that comments on the fair from an outsider's point of view, in place of the old local woman's ruminations in the original.
Now recovered, the rudimentary colour process is part of the film's beauty, making it look like a subtly hand-tinted postcard of the era come to life, with tints of terracotta and teal against sun-bleached and rose-tinted walls, and the silvery grey sheen of a dress or the indigo of a farmer's shirt catching the eye. And there is evidence even here of Tati's careful framing of scenes, a skill that would find its largest canvas in Playtime (1967). One example from fairly early on sees Francois play-acting his exploits with the flagpole to two men in the street who are pictured between a block of shadow of which Murnau would have been proud and a line of bunting, the two of them held like puppets by shadowed lines raking down the wall and finishing at their heads, emphasising their stillness and the concentrating the viewer's vision on the actions of the madcap man they (and we) are watching. It was a shot only possible from a particular position at a particular time of day, with shadows on the wall mirroring the immediately previous scene of guy lines holding the flagpole. Not for nothing did Tati have a family picture-framing background.
And as always with Tati, experiments with sound are to the forefront. At one point with the fair in full swing the pings of the rifle stand and the clatter of tins at the shy mix with the cymbals of the village band and the merry-go-round's insistently jolly tune to form a sunny cacophony of happy fairground confusion.
Also included Also included are in this Tati-fete are three Tati shorts previously only available on VHS, including L'Ecole des Facteurs (School for Postmen), the 'sketch de Jacques Tati' from which Jour de Fete was expanded. It begins in a finishing school for postmen - the 'College of Distribution of National Correspondence' - which primes them for the time-saving, minute-paring world in which they are going to play an active part. Probably. A number of the scenes - a level crossing gag, delivery to a horse's backside, chopped shoes, a bicycle that knows the route so well it does it by itself and ends up at the local bar - are re-used in Jour de Fete, as is Jean Yatove's frenetic, jolly music.
Soigne ton Gauche, a skit in which Tati's lithe, stripy-topped farmhand, Roger, sees a sporting impression get him into trouble when he is spotted by the trainer of a prize fighter who has run out of sparring partners in his improbable rural boxing ring. Roger might get lucky in the confusion of the ring but his formidable mother has the last wallop. Interesting too to see Tati's bicycling postman gags played out by another actor. Finally, his 1967 sketch Cours du Soir, made on the set of Playtime in 1966, sees him mimicking certain 'types' to an evening class, from smokers to tennis players and horse riders, allowing him to show off some some of his famous 'impressions sportives' - the mime acts with which he had begun his career over 3 decades before.