The Complete Jacques Tati, Blu-ray (7 discs) (2014)

The Complete Jacques Tati, Blu-ray (7 discs) (2014)

Special Edition Collector’s Set with digital restorations of all seven films plus seven shorts:

Jour de fete (“The Big Day”) (1949) – After seeing part of a movie on the efficient U.S. mail system, bumbling postman Francois tries to bicycle at high speed on his route and in the process has a series of mishaps. This is in three versions: a restored original black & white version, a black & white version in which Tati hand-colored the French flags and a few other points (similar to what Melies had done much earler but with less clarity), and finally the first restored color version (with the first French color technology) shot originally with a second camera but not distributed due to technical problems.

Le Vacances de Mr. Hulot (“Mr Hulot’s Vacation”) (1953) – Monsieur Hulot visits a beachside hotel for his vacation but causes general havoc.  A classic.

Mon oncle (1959) – Tati’s first true color film (and often considered his best), in which he visits the technology-crazy world of his sister, nephew and brother-in-law.

PlayTime (1967) – This film nearly ruined Tati’s career, partly due to not being able to secure U.S. distribution, not prominently featuring Mr. Hulot, and to the expenses involved in the huge set of buildings he constructed. Mr. Hulot has only a small part leading a group of American women tourists, but he still causes plenty of chaos. In 70mm color.

Trafic (1971) – Mr. Hulot works for an auto maker and drives an RV from Paris to an auto show in Amsterdam, with chaos along the way, and arrives at the show after it has closed.  Color.

Parade (Movie for TV 1974) – Color, but some shot in Super 16mm.  A small circus at which Tati performs some of his mime sketches that he started his career with. There are other acts, very loose, and it ends with two small children behind the scenes. He was fascinated by the hippy attire, which is seen everywhere.

The Shorts – Some early ones from the 1930s with Tati and a partner, one which has some of the exact same scenes with the postman character that he later did in Jour de fete (the footage even appears the same) and one directed by his daughter Sophie, in color, shot in a pastry shop in the same village as used in Jour de fete.

Director: Jacques Tati
Studio: Janus Films/ StudioCanal/The Criterion Collection 729 [10/28/14]
Video: Mostly 4:3 B&W & color, but Playtime in 1.78:1 70mm color
Audio: French, PCM mono, but Playtime in 3-channel DTS-HD MA
(Mon oncle has an English language version which is slightly shorter, but oddly the townspeople still speak French! PlayTime also has an alternate English soundtrack.)
Subtitles: English
Extras: Wow!: Intros to three of the films by Terry Jones of Monty Python; “In the Footsteps of Monsieu Hulot” – 1989 documentary; Five visual essays by Stephane Goudet; Film Scholar Michel Chion interviewed on sound design of Tati’s films; “Jour de fete: In Search of the Lost Color” – 1988 doc. on realizing Tati’s original color vision; “Once Upon a Time…Mon Oncle” – 2008 doc. about making that film; “Everything Is Beautiful” – 2005 video on the fashion, furniture and architecture of Mon oncle; Commentaries on selected scenes in Playtime; “Beyond Playtime” – 2002 doc. with on-set footage; “Tativille” – doc. shot by Sophie Tatischeff on the set of Playtime; “An Homage of Jacques Tati” – 1982 French TV program; Audio-only interview with Tati from U.S. premiere of PlayTime at 1972 SF International Film Festival; Interview with script supervisor of PlayTime; “Tati Story” – short 2002 film; “Professor Goudet’s Lessons” – 2013 classroom lecture on Tati’s films; Detailed printed booklet with essays by several film critics.
Total Length: 600 minutes
Rating: *****

What a package for film buffs! Tati is surely right up there with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.  In fact most of his films have very little dialogue and Francoise the postman as well as Mr. Hulot are usually not heard if they do say anything. Yet his art cannot be described as plain slapstick; it’s much more subtle than that. The extras go into how he usually hired ordinary people for his films rather than actors. His art is often careful observation of how funny people can be just being themselves. (Back when I made films I wanted to put together a film on exactly the same theme, and started to collect footage, as he did of the unrehearsed drivers picking their noses in Trafic.)

These gorgeous restorations of all the films (plus the first color version of  Jour de fete) on Blu-ray are most welcome because Tati was such a perfectionist (he constantly re-edited and made changes in his films even after they were released), and there are often all sorts of little details going on in various parts of the frame that one can miss if viewing a poor video version. This is especially true of PlayTime, which he shot in 70mm specifically to allow for great detail in his long shots (he hated closeups).  Each time you see it you may see something you missed before.  The absurdity of our reliance on technology is a frequent theme of Tati’s.

I especially loved the doorman to the new restaurant pretending to open the glass door for guests just by swinging the former handle in and out (after Mr. Hulot had accidently shattered the door).

His artistry in every movement of Mr. Hulot and Francois is unique. These characters came out of his beginning his career with unusual mime performances of sports and other people. (The boxing one is great, tho I hate boxing.) In fact, his final film, Parade, is a bit of a downer because Tati again performs some of his classic early bits such as the horse and rider who sort of become one in his amazing performance. But unlike John Cleese refusing to do his silly walk in the latest 30-year+ Monty Python show, Tati was a bit old to be doing these highly physical sketches from his youth. Also, he couldn’t get support in France for another film and had to rely on Stockholm TV to fund his final film, using Super 16mm instead of 35mm.

As you can see above, the extras are amazing. You may get tired of the same clips being used in many of the extras, but they all are worth viewing again – such as the inner tire which Mr. Hulot drops in the sticky leaves and it is picked up to be a wreath at a funeral (until it looses its air). In one of the extras this is pointed out as to how Tati’s humor differs from, say, Chaplin.  Charlie would have purposely made the inner tube look like a wreath and taken it himself to the funeral to get credit for his gag.  Not Hulot. This may be the best and most comprehensive set Criterion has ever done. If you’re new to Tati, see either Mon oncle or Mr. Hulot’s Vacation first, and then spring for this completely wonderful set.

—John Sunier

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