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Jacques Tati (1908 - 1982)

Lifespan: 1908 - 1982

Related: cult director - French cinema - comedy

Mr. Hulot aka Jacques Tati


Jacques Tati

Jacques Tati (October 9, 1908 - November 5, 1982) was a French film-maker. He was born Jacques Tatischeff in Le Pecq, Yvelines, France, and died in Paris, France.

Originally a mime, in the late 1930s Tati recorded some of his early sporting cameos on film with some success and thus began his career as a film-maker. His films have little dialogue or plot but are built around elaborate visual gags. In all his films, Tati plays the lead who with the exception of his first film is always the gauche and socially inept Monsieur Hulot. An important theme in Tati's work, most notably in Mon Oncle and Playtime, is the impracticality and ugliness of modern technology and design.

His first major feature, Jour de Fête, concerns a village postman who is influenced by a film shown at the village fair to go to extreme lengths to improve his mail deliveries.

His second film, Les Vacances de Mr Hulot, introduces Hulot and follows his adventures at a French beach resort. This was followed by Mon Oncle, which revolves around Hulot's hapless efforts to obtain a job. Mon Oncle won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1958.

Playtime took Tati nine years to complete. His most daring and most expensive work - he had a modern city, dubbed Tativille, built on the outskirts of Paris - it failed commercially, and he consequently produced his final two pictures with far more modest budgets. His final script Confusion, about television, was never produced.

In an interview, Rowan Atkinson noted that Tati's characters were a source of inspiration for the creation of the British Mr Bean. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Tati [Feb 2005]

Baseline profile

Living and working in France, Jacques Tati was a chessmaster of modern film comedy, a creator of complex comic structures in which gag constructions and audience expectations become pawns on his cinematic board. The recurring figure in these games is Monsieur Hulot (played by the director), a blank-faced comic cypher garbed in a crumbled raincoat and ill-fitting trousers, an ever-present pipe muffling any words he may say, an umbrella clutched in indecisive hands. His determinedly irresolute stride across Tati's expansive canvases is the unlikely spark that sets the comic machinery afire. On the basis of a mere four features (Mr. Hulot's Holiday, 1953; Mon Oncle, 1958; Playtime, 1967; and Traffic, 1972) over a 20-year period, Tati managed to reshape slapstick comedy, turning it into an intellectual parlor game. --Baseline

Mon Oncle (1958) - Jacques Tati

    Mon Oncle (1958) - Jacques Tati [Amazon.com]

    Mon Oncle (My Uncle) is a 1958 film by Jacques Tati. The film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

    The film stars Tati as his character Monsieur Hulot that he had devised for Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot in 1953. He plays the much-loved uncle of Gérard, who lives in the old part of town (set in Saint-Maur, Paris). Gérard's family live in an ultra modern house (actually quite Bauhaus style, albeit with a robot vacuum cleaner and other devices more reminiscent of Buster Keaton's The Electric House). Monsieur and Madame Arpel, Gérard's parents are trying to set up Monsieur Hulot with a job and wife to enable him to join in the modern life, but his clumsiness and lack of interest intervene, causing chaos at the plastic factory and the modern home.

    The film is beautifully filmed, with mostly visual humour (there is very little dialogue, although the soundtrack is in itself extremely humourous). The 1950s modern design is extremely beautiful (and was so at the time, so much that a copy of the studio-built house was made near Paris), yet we also see the charms of the old town which is being demolished by the end of the film. There is a huge contrast between the life and social (and sexual) interactions of the old life and the isolated houses of the new life where people are aloof. Yet even at the factory this is only a facade put on for the management, and by the end of the film, Mounsieur Arpel has taken on some of the rôle of Tati's character even though he has banished Monsieur Hulot to the provinces.

    To modern audiences it can seem a slow film, there is apparent repetition in many scenes but often this turns out to be something that emphasises the differences, as when the last time we see Hulot leave his house he doesnt leave his key hanging above the door like he has every other time.

    The English version My Uncle was filmed at the same time and had the French signs (perhaps unnecessarily) replaced by English ones and the important dialogue dubbed while the background talk is left in French. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mon_Oncle [Apr 2005]

    As early as 1957, the foibles of an early version of the "automatic" house were gently mocked in the witty film Mon Oncle by Jacques Tati. The film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1958. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domotics [Feb 2005]

    Mr. Hulot's Holiday (1953) - Jacques Tati

  1. Mr. Hulot's Holiday (1953) - Jacques Tati [Amazon.com]

    Several filmmakers have done homage to the comedies of the silent era including Jacques Tati with his Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1953), and Mel Brooks who starred in Silent Movie (1976). --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_film [Feb 2005] Forefather of Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean, Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot--a recurring character in several of his movies--is a blithely clumsy troublemaker, an insouciant twit who leaves uproar in his wake without being aware of it. Trying to describe this 1953 comedy is next to impossible except to say it is a series of vignettes at a vacation resort, with the distracted Hulot providing a lot of laughs. Tati directs, and in a way what that really means is that he composes this movie with a perfect eye and ear for the comic possibilities in everything: composition, lighting, minimal marble-mouth dialogue, certain sounds (a duck call, a door repeatedly opening and shutting). This is a superior work that ranks among all-time classic comedies. --Tom Keogh for Amazon

    [Although not his finest - which to me still is 'Jours de Fêtes' - all works of Tati, except for maybe his 'circus movie' are must see movies. Beware for the US VHS version of Mr Hulot, it contains added slapstick that is not featured in the Euro version. ]


    1. Playtime (1967) - Jacques Tati [Amazon.com]
      Jacques Tati's farewell to Monsieur Hulot is also a deep, insightful, sad and funny reflection on the modern age. The old Paris that Hulot loved in Holiday and moved in and out of in Mon Oncle -- the Paris we think of when we long to visit -- is completely gone here. (The closing scene in Mon Oncle, where Hulot drives past an anonymous airport, presages the modernity that has overwhelmed Paris in Playtime.) Hulot's Paris of the 1950s is all steel, glass, and consumerism. Human contact seems impossible at first. But as the day passes into night (and then into day again), individuality replaces structure, and Hulot's humanity ultimately conquers modern sterility. This wonderfully compassionate story is also remarkably funny, though these are smiling long-lasting laughs, not belly laughs.
      Ignore the negative comments about the picture quality of the VHS from the first two reviewers. The DVD is soooo much better than the VHS -- it is impossible to describe the improvement. As for the 2.35:1 vs. 1.85:1 issue, all I can say is that I loved the film as presented by Criterion. I have no idea if I would love it more in its full aspect. - Deborah S Dranove for amazon.com


    1. Extraits Des Bandes Originales Des Films De Tati Jacques [Soundtrack] - Jacques Tati [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
      1. Chemisettes 2. Jour De Fete 3. Chanson Des Forains 4. Tournee Rapide 5. Quel Temps Fait-Il A Pari 6. Mon Oncle Adios Mario 7. Au Drugstore 8. Manege 9. Paris Autrefois 10. Theme Africain 11. Musique Strand 12. Super Market 13. Paris Circus 14. Play Time

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