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REVIEW – Jour de Fete (1949)

November 1, 2012

FilmJuice have my review of Jacques Tati’s Jour de Fete, which has just been given a dual-format re-release by the BFI.

Tati has always been something of a problematic figure for me. Having seen Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot, I have always been aware of Tati’s skills as a performer but I have never quite grasped why it is that Tati is taken seriously as a filmmaker whilst the work of most comic directors is studiously ignored. One answer to this perplexing problem is that Tati’s work was championed by a certain group of critics at a certain point in time and that nobody has since bothered to question the assumption that he is a great film-maker. Another answer is that Tati, though a director of comedies, not only developed a coherent voice but used that voice to critique French society.

Set in a small French town in the midst of a carnival, Jour de Fete is a whimsical slapstick comedy featuring a country postman who takes it upon himself to modernise the entire French postal service, one delivery at a time. Unfortunately, while I appreciate both the uniqueness of Tati’s vision and his skill as a performer, I found the satirical elements a little too broad to be genuinely effective:

Jour de Fete is often spoken of as a treatise against American-style modernisation and while it is easy to see that Tati is attempting to satirise the ludicrous idea of an efficient French postal service, the satire is so broad that it fails to gain much traction on the world. Indeed, the best joke in the entire film is the idea that American postmen are so fast and efficient that they train for their jobs by jumping through flaming hoops on motorbikes. However, as beautiful as this idea may be, its absurdity completely overcooks the gag and boils away the film’s satirical edge leaving only a whimsical residue. The point of satire is to mock things that actually exist but surely even the most zealous of corporate reformers would allow postmen to get off their bikes when delivering letters. By presenting the desire for economic modernisation in such ludicrous terms, Tati’s satire fails to connect with anything real.

Or maybe it’s just me.

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