(director/writer: Jacques Tati; cinematographers: Jean Badal/Gunnar Fischer; editors: Aline Asseo/Sophie Tatischeff; music: Charles Dumont; cast: Jacques Tati, Karl Kossmayer, Pia Colombo; Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Louis Dolivet; BFI PAL DVD; 1974-France/Sweden-in French with English subtitles)
“Like in all his films, Tati’s good-nature comes through.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This is the great French comedian Jacques Tati‘s (“Playtime”/”Jour De Fete”/”My Uncle”) last feature, made when he was 65 as a return favor to a Swedish television crew who completed filming his 1971 Trafic when he ran out of money while shooting it in the Netherlands and his cinematographer bolted. The plotless film was shot in video with a live audience at Stockholm’s old Cirkus Theater.Tati’s act in Sweden returns him to his Paris music hall roots in the 1930s, where he started as a mime. He’s the ringmaster of a variety show that includes clowns, jugglers, acrobats, magicians, Alpine yodelers, slap-stick gags, singers and musicians. In between acts, Tati acted as a mime–playing the likes of a traffic cop, soccer goalkeeper, a boxer and tennis player. He did the same mime act in his twenties, when starting out in the music hall circuit before going into films. The film’s highlight comedy moment has a balding, bespectacled gaudy suit wearing middle-aged man come out of the audience to ride a bucking mule, while his anguished wife tries to pull him back to his seat.
There’s a melancholy about it knowing that Tati lost his money on his now recognized as a masterpiece Playtime, which bombed at the b.o. and cut short his innovative film career. The film is interesting not because of these ordinary circus acts and all the childish horseplay, but in the way Tati involved his audience to participate and the way he generously credits them with being the film’s stars just as much as the professional performers. It ends with two cute blonde children playing with the stage props under a circus tent while the audience leaves the auditorium and their parents patiently wait for them in their seats. For Tati, the kids messing around with the props adheres to his belief that everyone is a natural clown. His clown moves were inspired by watching ordinary people act in public and then using his instincts to incorporate their moves into his act.
Like in all his films, Tati’s good-nature comes through. Though ignored by the public, it’s a better film than just a conventional circus story many think it is. It deserves a greater audience because it’s a Tati film, even if a lesser one, that still bears his signature moves.
REVIEWED ON 2/3/2012 GRADE: B