Jour De Fête

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"The film is at its best when Tati is on his own with a simple prop like the bike, when his distinctive personality comes to the fore."

The restored version of Jacques Tati's debut feature - which expands on his 1947 short The School For Postmen (L'ecole Des Facteurs) - affords a better than ever chance to see his slapstick skills at work.

He plays Francois, a hapless postie in a sleepy French village which is preparing for the day of a fete. Tati knows how to use his lanky looks to his advantage so that there is something vaguely comical about the way he sits primly on his bicycle, its cowbell jangling wildly, even before he gets down to the serious funny busines.

Less successful are interludes where Francois isn't present, since the scripting doesn't live up to the sight gags, although a brief flirtation between a fair roustabout and one of the locals to the dialogue of an unseen Western is a high point. The film's structure itself is very loose, with Francois' ambitions of mimicking the derring do of American postmen little more than a thinly veiled excuse for bike-driven comic shenanigans including, surely, the first case of 'phone driving' caught on film.

Lovers of American slapstick will find several of the gags familiar, from a nanny goat eating someone's post to the comic complications of putting up a flagpole, while fans of the animated version of The Pink Panther will doubtless find scenes of a bike with a mind of its own particularly familiar.

The film is at its best when Tati is on his own with a simple prop like the bike, when his distinctive personality comes to the fore. As a director, he often steps back from the action, so we can better appreciate Francois' wild gesticulating re-enactments of his adventures, while, close up, his garbled French is more like an additional soundtrack than a conversation. His love of rural France is also obvious, as he takes time to capture the daily goings on of the local townsfolk - it's worth noting that he always used nonprofessional actors, which also gives the action a ring of truth.

This was originally intended to be the first ever French colour movie, with Tati shooting it using Thomson-Color film. The director, known for his extreme attention to detail, was concerned that the experimental format might not give the results he wanted, so he also shot the film in black and white. It's a choice that was to prove smart as, unhappy with the colour version, he was able to release the film in monochrome. What you don't see, if you only watch the black and white version, is Tati's thoughtfulness with the regard to this new medium, as he was at pains to make the village look drab so that the fair brings colour to town.

These days, the film is available in several incarnations. This restored 1949 original, Tati's hand stencil-tined version from 1964 (not full colour but with a smattering of colour detailings) and a 1994 restoration of the colour version - supervised by his daughter Sohpia Tatischeff - are all available on the disc released as part of Studiocanal's Essential Jacques Tati Blu-ray Collection.

Reviewed on: 12 Aug 2014
Share this with others on...
Tati's debut about a postman who sees a newsreel about the US mail system and decides to upgrade his deliveries, with comic consequences.
Amazon link

Director: Jacques Tati

Writer: Jacques Tati, Henri Marquet, René Wheeler

Starring: Guy Decomble, Jacques Tati, Paul Frankeur, Santa Relli, Maine Vallée, Delcassan, Roger Rafal, Robert Balpo, Jacques Beauvais, Alexandre Wirtz

Year: 1949

Runtime: 70 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: France

Festivals:

French 2009

Search database: