Jacques Tati

(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

5.0 The Big Day (1949)
7.0 Hulot's Holidays (1953)
7.2 My Uncle (1958)
7.5 Playtime (1967)
6.5 Traffic (1971)
5.0 Parade (1974)

Jacques Tati, di origine russa, si ispirò ai grandi mimi sbocciati sull'onda dell'insegnamento di Delsarte. Dal 1931 al 1945 calcò con successo le scene del "music- hall" ispirandosi anche a Charlot e conquistandosi una larga popolarità con le gag satiriche che vivacizzarono i suoi sketch muti. Alcune di queste scenette vennero trasferite in cortometraggi diretti da altri [On Demand un Brute (1934), da Clémènt]. Soltanto nel 1947 Tati si decise a dirigere un suo cortometraggio, L'Ecole des Facteurs/ School for Postmen. L'esperienza gli servì da tirocinio per il primo lungometraggio, la mediocre commedia Jour de Fête/ The Big Day (1949), nel quale si convertiva ai dialoghi. In the age before cars became pervasive, in the idyllic countryside a tractor slowly drags a wagon with the rides for the local fair in honor of the patron saint. A child follows it excited, and ducks and goat greet it into town. The program for the holiday also includes a USA film, announced with much pomp. an elderly woman comments on the characters and events of the town. Francois is the postman of this undistinguished small town like many others. He rides his bicycle up the unpaved streets of the town. He helps the men who are raising the flagpost in the main square, especially since a goat has eaten the telegram that he was supposed to deliver urgently. The merry go round start moving, the marching band plays music, the girls dress up and come out of their homes. Francois embarrasses himself in several of the booths of the fair, and eventually stumbles into a booth where the tv set is showing a documentary on the automated USA mail system. Eventually the day is over, and the night brings some quiet (although the man of the rides, Roger, is flirting with one of the single girls, despite his wife being in the wagon). However, the mailman is now obsessed with the USA mail system. In the morning the town folks make fun of his obsession. He only has an old bicycle to modernize his system. He rides around town like a maniac, while people root for him. He even anchors himself to a truck so that he can stamp the mail while riding the bicycle. He cannot stop to help a man who has fallen into the well. He drops letters in the most unlikely places, so that he doesn't have to stop. The butcher cuts a package in half because Francois dumps it on his cutting board while he's cutting meat. Then he has to run after his bicycle that is rolling down the hill as if drawn by a ghost. When he finally catches up, he ties it to the wall like a horse. But then of course he forgets to untie it when he starts biking again... And so on and on frantically, up and down the hills, causing car accidents and doing acrobatic moves to avoid obstacles, and even passing professional cyclists of the Tour de France, all the time being hailed by the whole population, until he crashes in a pond and has to be rescued by the old lady in her slow horse-drawn cart. He ends up helping a farmer while a little child distributes the mail. Roger's wagon leaves town, watched with melancholy by the girl who is in love with Roger, while the town's men take down the flagpost. And everything returns to its normal, idyllic state. (The second part, after he decides to become "American", has by far the best gags, and, not accidentally, is also the one with little or no dialogue, just bodily farce). Attento osservatore della vita di tutti i giorni, Tati costruisce le gag del film come parodie (minuziose) di gesti e luoghi comune; ma non ha bisogno di creare situazioni comiche, il suo lavoro consiste nello scovare la comicità nelle cose così come sono.

Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot/ Hulot's Holidays (1953), nel quale conservò invece il semimutismo dei suoi spettacoli, sfrutta l'abilità comica per un fine più serio: il personaggio di Hulot, l'uomo qualunque parodiato da un abbigliamento austero ma eccentrico (impermeabile svolazzante, cappello, ombrello e pipa) e dal mutismo ostinato (pronuncia soltanto il proprio nome), che e` di fatto un anarchico in una societa` sempre piu` irreggimentata.

Di film in film Tati prende in esame un "ambiente", lo rivolta, lo disseziona, lo perlustra accuratamente, servendosi sempre delle risorse limitate del cinema muto (non sonorizzato).

Crowds of people leaving for the summer holidays assemble at the train station. The loudspeakers blast something totally senseless. When the train arrives, they have to squeeze into the overcrowded cars. In the meantime an old stuttering automobile is advancing in the dusty country roads. WHen it enters a small town, it has to stop because the passengers are trying to board an overcrowded bus, including a nice young woman. A dog sleeping in the middle of the street refuses to move when the funny vehicle approaches. Other cars pass it at twice its speed. The nice young woman traveling alone gets off the bus when they reach the beach. Hulot arrives at a hotel in the same town. Hulot is the stereotypical middle-class person, except that he is not traveling with a companion. At the beach a child wreaks havoc by using a lens to burn a rope that holds a boat. Later the girlfriend of the girl arrives at the hotel, and Hulot helps her carry her very heavy luggage. Guests of the hotel dine and chat in peace until loud music explodes from the room where Hulot has found a turntable. Someone turns the electricity off. It turns out Hulot is not the nice man he appears to be: at the beach he has fun causing all sort of trouble against random beachgoers. Ordinary life proceeds quietly and slowly, but hides many small incidents. Hulot is driving when he sees a man miss his bus. Hulot tells him to get in and starts chasing the bus. His stuttering car has almost made it when the car's top collapses and he ends up in a cemetery where a funeral is taking place. He plays tennis (all dressed up in his usual attire) and is invincible. The guests of the hotel play cards and argue. He goes horse riding with the young girl. Then they dance dressed in fancy costumes. Most of the guests of the hotel organize a picnic out of town. Hulot gives a ride to two ladies but his car keeps dying. Eventually he has to push it down a hill, but doesn't see a car in front of him: when his car hits it, both cars start rolling down the hill with Hulot running between the two. His car ends up in the garden of a mansion and he has to run away from the guard dogs. One night Hulot enters a small hut and accidentally sets fire to the fireworks that are stored in it, lighting the whole sky. The guests of the hotel wake up and join in the party. The following day the guests depart, bidding farewell to each other.
If many of the gags are outdated, these films are actually frescoes of ordinary life in those eras.

Mon Oncle/ My Uncle (1958) catapulta Hulot, l'abitante di un quieto rione popolare e amico dell'umile gente del vicinato, in una casa ultramoderna. Hulot accetta tutto passivamente, come se qualunque cosa rientrasse nella logica delle cose: mai un moto di ribellione, mai manifestare la propria preferenza. D'altronde alla fin fine la sua personalità, per quanto accondiscendente, risulta invincibile: i suoi "protettori" devono arrendersi davanti all'evidenza della sua incapacità a vivere in un contesto moderno.

A garbage collector on a horse-drawn cart collects trash, followed by a dog. Four dogs roam the streets but only one enters a mansion, while the other three stop at the gate. A woman still dressed in a robe helps a middle-aged man in a suit and tie get ready to leave the house. Then the child comes out, Gerard, and gets into the car. No words are exchanged. This car enters the busy streets of the city. The man drops the child in front of his school and then continues to the gated parking lot of a factory. In the meantime the garbage collector drops his load and then heads for a market on his slow cart. He then walks to the top story of a building. Hulot lives in a quiet suburb of humble middle-class families. He is amused that his bird would start chirping every time a reflection from a glass door sends a bit of light towards its cage. Hulot picks up Gerard at the school and walks back home. At his home a guest has arrived, an elegant and beautiful woman, just before Hulot walks in with the child. Hulot quietly disappears, avoiding the guest. The man in suit and tie, Charles, returns home and is welcomed by his wife in their perfectly organized home, equipped with the latest technological devices. Hulot quickly retraces his steps to his neighborhood, which is noisy and messy, where people are people and not robots. At the factory Charles asks his boss (in a futuristic room) for a job, not for himself but for his unemployed brother-in-law. Having been accorded the favor, he calls Hulot, who clumsily manages to screw up the interview. Hulot's sister receives the visit of her neighbor and takes the opportunity to give her a tour of their futuristic house, furnished with objects manufactured at her husband's futuristic factory. The neighbor is no less vain, artificial and pretentious than them. When he comes back home, her husband Charles is furious for what Hulot has done. Hulot arrives on his bicycle, wearing his raincoat, an attitude that contrasts sharply with the impeccable attire and demeanor of the family. Their son is terribly bored and welcomes the visit of his funny uncle. Hulot takes him out of the house, and lets him play with his mischievious little friends (and he takes the blame for their practical jokes). His sister thinks he needs a woman, and the neighbor would be the perfect wife. Unaware of the plot, Hulot is taking a stroll in his neighborhood, happily chatting with his neighbors. His sister throws a garden party with a few robotic friends and the neighbor. Hulot arrives with his old bicycle. She tries very hard but the neighbor is an absolute icy bore that Hulot's jokes cannot melt. A leak in the pipes causes a little problem. One of the guests decides to roll his sleeves up and fix the problem, and ends up digging a huge hole, while the others move the tables and chair, and Hulot ends up in a pond. A friend of the neighbor shows up with a dog that runs amok, and eventually Hulot manages to get the leash stuck in one of the neighbor's earrings: then he just hands the leash to the dog owner, as if handing him the woman herself. The party is spoiled. Everybody leaves.
The usual routine resumes in the morning, with Charles driving the child to school and then driving himself to work. The workers and the secretaries start working frantically when they see his dog (a sign that the boss is coming). Hulot has finally been employed, although is falling asleep at his workplace. A machine starts malfunctioning, producing tubes that look like sausages, and Hulot doesn't know how to stop it. In the evening the workers, including Hulot who has Gerard with him, want to dispose of the bad tubes so the boss doesn't realize the gravity of the mistake, and throw it in the river. A young man thinks someone fell in the river and dives to rescue him. When he finds out it's just tube, he thinks of a practical joke and runs after Hulot and the others. Hulot takes his coat off to fight and... punches a passer-by. By the end of the evening, however, they are all friends. Hulot and Gerard are delivered to futuristic home in a horse-drawn cart. Gerard had the time of his life. In the meantime Charles and Hulot's sister are having their boring anniversary dinner at a fancy restaurant. When they return home, they find Hulot sleeping on the couch (a rather uncomfortable arching couch).
Hulot is indifferent to wealth, social status, modernity and employment.
Charles decides to send him to work in another region. Charles and Gerard pick him up at his humble place, and drive him to the station (where a myriad people show up with the exact same suitcase, a metaphor for the individual lost in the mass). Charles whistles to wave goodbye one more time to his brother-in-law, but instead distracts a passenger who then hits a lamppost. Father and child hide and laugh: they have finally become friends.

Il capolavoro di Tati, Playtime (1967), è ambientato fra i grattacieli di una Parigi futuribile. Il mosaico di gag rende il senso della vita dell'umile ape nel geometrico alveare. Qui Hulot assurge a don Quijote del futuro tecnologico, dove i mulini a vento si sono trasformati nell'arsenale tecnologico della società consumista, un po' il ruolo che Chaplin aveva assegnato al protagonista di Modern Times; ma a differenza di quell'omino, Hulot è un borghese serafico, per nulla ostile alla società, anzi perfettamente integrato in essa.
Hulot è un eterno fanciullo dall'anima candida e inoffensiva, è vittima inerme e consenziente dell'assurdità; cerca di capire il senso delle cose che lo circondano senza riuscirci, ma non si ribella; chiede scusa e si adegua; la sua personalità viene repressa quotidianamente dalla tecnologia che invade tutto lo spazio del pubblico e del privato mediante armi subdole come l'automobile e gli elettrodomestici. Hulot è un essere totalmente passivo.

A group of foreign tourists, including Barbara, arrives at the airport. Hulot emerges from the chaos of the tourists as a footnote, when he picks up an umbrella that he has dropped. In a futuristic megalopolis made of glass and steel, Hulot enters a building and hands a piece of paper to the guardian, who then presses buttons on a switchboard that makes funny noises. This is the beginning of a mute Kafka-esque odyssey through a labirynth of cubicles, offices and hallways in search of the person he has to meet urgently. In parallel the foreign tourists are visiting the highlights of the glass and steel towers, instead of the old monuments (The famous monuments of Paris are sometimes shown in reflections against the glass of doors and walls). He is totally lost when he accidentally enters a trade fair of bizarre high-tech household objects, where the foreign tourists are also being escorted. (Most of the dialogues and presentations are actually "background noise" incidentally captured by the camera). He and Barbara keep running into each other without realizing it. He and Barbara even take the same bus. When Hulot gets off, he meets an old friend who invites him to his flat. Hulot accepts and walks up to the first floor of the building. The glass wall does not have curtains, and the camera remains outside, showing the action through the glass, with no sounds. In fact, the camera shows more than one apartment, up to four in one shot. The lives of their inhabitants are public. The woman next door is watching television and, when the camera moves exactly facing the wall between the two apartment, it looks like she's staring at Hulot's friend getting undressed in the other apartment. Outside, among the people who are staring at the "transparent" apartments, Hulot meets the very man that he wanted to meet in the office building. Yet another friend takes him to a
Elsewhere he staff is frantically fixing the last details of a newly-inaugurated restaurants. In a bakery Hulot meets another old friend, who now works as security guard at that night-club. He insists that Hulot follows him, and Hulot walks straight into the (transparent) front door and destroys it. The foreign tourists walk into the same night-club. However the experience is terrible because nothing works properly and the waiters are inept. As the crowd is dancing to tribal music, Hulot mingles with the foreign tourists. Hulot wreaks havoc, destroying part of the ceiling, but also creates a more humane atmosphere. Barbara volunteers to play the piano to replace the orchestra that left after the ceiling collapsed. Countless gags accumulate during this long scene (the drunk who keeps falling from his stool). Hulot leaves the restaraunt with the foreigners at dawn. (Each scene is crowded, with multiple characters forming a loose group with no particular center of attention, and often more characters viewed through the glass walls in the background). Hulot and Barbara walk on the sidewalks while the stores are opening, and Hulot buys her some souvenirs. It's time for her to board the tour bus that has to take the tourists back to the airport. Traffic moves very slowly in a circle around a roundabout (and the camera shows it from above, a perspective that makes it look like a carousel). Finally the bus takes the highway to the airport. It is night again when it reaches the airport.
The second part of the film abandons the futuristic motif of the first part and becomes a more abstract game of psychological analyses.
Trafic/ Traffic (1971) mette in guardia dalla esautorazione dell'individuo. Il viaggio attraverso la Francia si tramuta in un'avventura picaresca attraverso un universo caotico e concitato. Tati canta l'estignuersi dell'artigianato (che egli meglio d'ogni altro regista francese rappresenta, con i suoi film rari e minuziosi) e satireggia il falso progresso e il falso benessere della società moderna (ma non tanto le invenzioni in sé quanto la gente che ne diventa schiava). L'inventore di una superautomobile vuol presentarla a un'importante esposizione annuale, ma, nonostante le prestazioni fantascientifiche del mezzo, non può presentarsi in tempo perché numerosi imprevisti e incidenti ne rallentano la marcia.

Al di là del moralismo un po' retrogrado e semplicistico, questi film sono ammirevoli dal punto di vista della quantità di gag create e del loro montaggio; un lavoro che richiede a Tati anni d'impegno silenzioso.

Parade (1974) è un affettuoso omaggio al mondo del cinema: è la cronaca di uno spettacolo durante il quale il mimo riepiloga i più celebri sketch della sua carriera.

Dalla della nuova borghesia Tati è passato a visioni apocalittiche del futuro, per finire nella denuncia della spersonalizzazione dell'uomo-massa.

Il personaggio di Tati è un anacronistico fallito, ancora legato ad un mondo di sentimento e alla sua dignità di uomo.

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