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TRAFIC (director/writer: Jacques Tati; screenwriter: Jacques LaGrange; cinematographer: Edward van den Enden/Marcel Weiss; editors: Maurice Laumain/Sophie Tatischeff/Jacques Tati; music: Charles Dumont; cast: Jacques Tati (Mr. Hulot), Marcel Fraval (Marcel, truck driver), Tony Knepper (Mechanic), Honoré Bostel (Director of ALTRA), Maria Kimberly (Maria, Public-relations girl for Altra), François Maisongrosse (François); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert Dorfmann; The Criterion Collection; 1971-France/Holland-in French with English subtitles)
“An enjoyable classic in choreographed sight gags about gridlock.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jacques Tati’s (“My Uncle”/”Playtime”/”Mr. Hulot’s Holiday”) fifth feature film is an enjoyable classic in choreographed sight gags about gridlock and shows off the master comedian in a good light as a good sport about being taken for a ride. It’s Tati’s bemused look at technology gone south, the effect cars have on the drivers and how Tati must cope in his amiable way with an increasingly dehumanized society.

Mr. Hulot (Jacques Tati) is the gangly, pipe-smoking, bumbling designer for the fictional Altra car company who innovatively designed a new camper decked out with an assortment of smart but hardly essential gadgetry from a shower hookup to a horn that can be turned into an electric shaver to a cooking grill. Tati’s outfitted as usual with a tan raincoat, beaten brown hat, and umbrella. He’s entrusted by the car company to take the camper (supposedly an embellished Renault 4L) from Paris to Amsterdam to deliver it in time for the International Auto Show at the RAI exhibition center, and is accompanied by the American fashion-conscious and goal orientated to a fault neurotic PR girl Maria (Maria Kimberly), recklessly riding in a snazzy yellow sports car with her pet toy dog, while Hulot’s with the resourceful but flabbergasted truck driver Marcel (Marcel Fraval). The big joke is that the luxury camper can’t take to the road on its own and must be transported in the back of the truck. A multiple of problems occur along the way that include a flat tire, running out of gas, several traffic jams, failing to stop at a border control crossing that gets the truck impounded by the Dutch police, the truck speeding through a stop sign to keep up with the inconsiderate Maria that causes a car accident and a chain reaction of crashes resulting in a pileup and, finally, a stopover to get the camper repaired by a Dutch mechanic (Tony Knepper).

The film was Tati’s movie farewell to the Hulot character. It’s a collection of understated visual gags that take a long time being pulled off and not all work, but the ones that do are hilarious and poke genial fun at modern man’s need to be a consumer. Though for the most part Tati is not the cause of the chaos, yet he seems to always wind up in the middle of a chaotic situation which gives him a chance to reflect on how modern life seems to be going topsy-turvy in the fast lane.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”