A Day in the Country (1936, Jean Renoir)

Set in 1860, a frivolous comedy that becomes a serious romantic drama, all in forty minutes. Watching this now because I just saw a remake in episode five of La Flor. Mr. Dufour, his wife Juliette, daughter Henriette, a deaf elder, and H’s fiancee Anatole take a day vacation, stop at a rural restaurant, picnic under a cherry tree and get wine drunk, then go boating.

Two local men, Henri (played by Renoir’s assistant director) and Rodolphe, are introduced having heavy conversation about the risks of seducing random women. A minute later, they’re interested in the Dufour ladies, so they lend the men fishing poles to get rid of them, and offer themselves as boat guides. Henri scores with the daughter, and years later she’s married to Anatole, an absolute idiot, sees Henri again and says she thinks of him every night.

Katy wasn’t interested, because she cancelled Renoir for being colonialist after watching The River with me thirteen years ago. Abandoned after shooting in 1936, finished and released ten years later, although besides its unusual length, I get no sense of it being incomplete. There are hours of blu extras, but instead I made myself a French shorts feast by watching all my unseen Etaix and Tati shorts from the Criterion sets.


Rupture (1961, Pierre Etaix)

Mostly wordless, with exaggerated sound effects. His girl dumps him via mail, and he attempts to write a letter in reply, but he’s not terribly competent. After a suicide gag (gun-shaped cigarette lighter), he kills himself through idiocy. Etaix’s film debut, also the debut of cowriter Jean-Claude Carrière, who would write six major Buñuel films.


Happy Anniversary (1962, Pierre Etaix)

Etaix tries to pick up a few things on his way home for an anniversary meal with his sweetheart, but every stop causes major problems and delays, and she starts getting loaded on wine and appetizers while waiting. Good subplot of a guy in the middle of a shave who gets up to move his car, loses his spot and ends up driving in circles until the barber closes. More sophisticated than last year’s short (and a better traffic movie than Trafic), won an oscar the same year the Hubleys won for The Hole.


Gai Dimanche (1935)

“Fun Sunday” A couple of no-good drunks and thieves borrow a car and act like tour guides. Tall Tati is paired with shorter comic Rhum, and it’s odd to see Jacques as a crook and a motormouth. The sync sound goes in and out, the editing can be dodgy, but like the scene where our two scoundrels underfeed the tourists while distracting them with magic tricks, the movie gets tricked out with star wipes and slide whistles. Written by the two clowns, directed by Jacques Berr, who made some 60 shorts.


School for Postmen (1946)

After a training regimen by high-pitched boss Paul Demange, postman Tati heads out on his neighborhood route then to catch the mail plane. Overall great, a condensed and superior version of Jour de Fete.


Cours du soir (1967)

“Evening Classes” Tati teaches a course on observation, miming smoking as different personalities, demonstrating a specific way of stumbling up some stairs and walking into a wall, remaking some of his own film scenes. A meta-Tati short, showing the care that goes into each action in his features, though not a barrel of laughs on its own. Same year as Playtime with the same DP – director Nicolas Ribowski was Tati’s assistant director on the feature.


Dégustation maison (1977)

“House Specialty” Filmed by Tati’s daughter Sophie Tatischeff (who also edited Trafic) and shot in the Jour de fête town. A real light sketch, in which a chatty bunch of locals eats tarts.


Forza Bastia (1978)

Not really fitting in at all, though credited to Tati, this is a doc about the excitement around a big soccer match. Lots of props and flags – it looks like soccer merch must be France’s main product. Sweeping water off the field into a metal bucket with an ordinary broom looks like a futile endeavor.

Very promising, opening titles over an auto assembly line, “with the participation of Bert Haanstra,” the factory work bringing to mind his great short Glas. Alas, Tati fell out with Haanstra (and his funders, and somehow Lasse Hallström), and this ended up a fitfully amusing, semi-improvised road-trip film that incidentally features Mr. Hulot as an auto designer helping transport his creation to a trade show.

The joke is that delays and misfortune make them miss the show completely – they get a flat tire, the truck’s clutch goes out, etc. But it’s hard to feel sorry for them (not that the movie asks us to) when they also run out of gas, get arrested for speeding through a border crossing, cause a ten-car rube goldberg car crash, and don’t seem to know what day the show starts – this is all professional incompetence. Anyway they’re a likable crew except for the grating American PR rep Maria.

Besides Hulot’s presence, you can catch glimpses of the style of the guy who made Playtime only a few years earlier, and can also catch his influence on Roy Andersson. Some cute bits: after the second garage stop Tati makes a rock music video out of traffic lines and road marking patterns. Montage of people’s windshield wipers matching their personalities, some good sight gags in the police station, Maria’s constant stylish wardrobe changes. But there’s also this disastrous bit:

Learned from Jonathan Rosenbaum’s article that Haanstra shot the nose-picking montage, and at least some of it is unstaged.

Jonathan Romney for Criterion:

Tati certainly appears less in control than in the vast coordinated ballet of Playtime. For the most part, the jokes in Trafic drum up a sense of languid, almost apathetic chaos, without there always being conventional payoffs to give the comic business a sense of purpose. Notwithstanding the painstakingly synchronized pileup scene, the film is characterized by slow-burn gags that create an overall comic atmosphere rather than work toward a clearly defined goal … Without a doubt, Trafic contains a hovering tone of despair that makes it a somewhat melancholic pendant to Playtime.

First time rewatching this since 2003.

A warmup for Playtime, toying with modern technology and living/working spaces ill-suited for the decidedly unmodern Mr. Hulot. At his sister’s house, sound is made by electric gizmos, and at Hulot’s, it’s made by aiming a sunbeam at a caged bird.

Sidetracks follow neighborhood dogs and schoolboy pranks. At the end the dad bonds with his son in a small way, at the expense of having Hulot sent away, and the dogs again take over the film.

On of my favorite gags, the women talking to each other but facing the direction the path dictates:

Won the oscar over Big Deal on Madonna Street, and won a jury prize at Cannes the year of big winner The Cranes are Flying. So many blu-ray extras and reviews of this… a good one: Matt Zoller Seitz for Criterion.

Berenice (1954, Eric Rohmer)

An Edgar Allen Poe story about a talky, sickly shut-in who stares at everyday objects all day is an odd choice for your first film. The guy (Rohmer himself!) lives with an epileptic cousin, becomes monomaniacally obsessed with her teeth, and eventually they get engaged since neither can deal with the outside world. But she dies one night, and he takes this very melodramatically, then awakens from a fugue days later having dug up the grave and stolen the teeth. It’s all narration and sound effects, shot by Jacques Rivette, still a couple years before his debut short.

Khan Khanne (2014, Jean-Luc Godard)

“This is not a film anymore, although it is my best.” What Godard sent to this year’s Cannes instead of appearing in person. Godard is his usual latter-day self, acting the scatterbrained professor, possibly quoting Hannah Arendt and/or referencing Chris Marker, cutting in excerpts from Alphaville and King Lear, using camera shots and sound editing that make it seem like he doesn’t know what he’s doing, ultimately making little sense to me, but with a weirdo bravado.

Adieu a TNS (1998, Jean-Luc Godard)

Swaying, smoking, Godard recites a singsongy poem over gentle accordion in three parts, the framing tighter each time. I’ve read that this was “a bitter and mournful farewell to the National Theater of Strasbourg.”

The Accordion (2010, Jafar Panahi)

Two brothers play music for spare change, not realizing they’re outside a mosque. A guy threatens to report them to the police, takes their accordion and runs. But it turns out he’s just a poor bastard hoping to earn money with the instrument, so the kids join him instead of killing him with a rock, which had been the other option.

The Nest (2014, David Cronenberg)

Single-take nine-minute shot from first-person perspective of surgeon (Cronenberg) interviewing patient (Evelyne Brochu, Tom’s ally/coworker in Tom at the Farm) who claims she has a wasps nest inside her left breast. Doubles as a commissioned short for some exhibition and a trailer for his first novel, Consumed, out this fall.

Gradiva (2014, Leos Carax)

Another gallery commission featuring a naked girl. This time the girl has gone to buy cigarettes, returns and has a short conversation with Rodin’s The Thinker.

The Legend of Hallowdega (2010, Terry Gilliam)

Unfunny fake investigation into haunted goings-on at the Talladega racetrack from a Daily Show writer. Just terrible. I won’t give away the twist comedic ending because I’m too embarrassed. Ends with a nice Wolf Parade song, at least.

On demande une brute (1934, Charles Barrois)

Early Jacques Tati, who wrote and starred as a hapless actor who accidentally signs up to be a wrestler. Despite all the time spent on audition scenes and the wrestling match, the only good bit is when he tries to keep his shrew wife from absentmindedly eating a pet fish at the dinner table.

Gravesend (2007, Steve McQueen)

Beautiful shots that seem to go on longer than they should, check, yep it’s the guy who made Hunger. One of those art installation pieces that is very cool to read about and less fun to watch. I wanted to like it, and almost did…

From the official description:

Gravesend uses a documentary approach to focus on the mining of coltan, employed in the manufacture of cell phones, laptops and other high-tech apparatus. The film cuts between two sites: a technological, highly automated industrial plant in the West where the precious metal is processed for the final production of microelectronic parts, and the central Congo, where miners use simple shovels or their bare hands to extract, wash and collect the ore on leaves. .. coltan, traded at an extremely high price, represents one of the key financial factors in the armed conflict of the militia in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where decades of civil war have cost several million human lives.

Away From It All (1979, John Cleese & Clare Taylor)

Fake travelogue disguised to look and sound like a real one (unless you recognize John Cleese’s voice), very gradually straying from the company line, slipping in notes of humor and aggression. Stock footage takes us from Rome to Venice to Ireland to Bulgaria to Vienna to New York, back to Venice to Acapulco, to a rapid montage of vacation spots as the narrator begins ranting about existential terror. Accompanied Life of Brian in British theaters.

Only two people to mention here: Chomet, creator of Triplets of Belleville, and Jacques Tati, who wrote the partly autobiographical script. Having just watched a couple of Tati movies and gotten a feel for his comedy, this seemed about 10% Tati and 90% Chomet. Maybe that’s underselling it, since Chomet’s previous film was obviously Tati-influenced, with its dialogue-free physical comedy (not to mention the clip from Jour de Fete the triplets watch in bed).

There is a Tatiesque magician, tall guy, somewhat shabby, with an umbrella, a pretty good act and a fed-up rabbit. Rock and roll is in, and magic acts are out, so he finds himself unemployed. Invited to Scotland by a drunken fan, he meets a young girl named Alice, takes her to Edinburgh, but she has expensive tastes so he takes night jobs while trying to continue his magic career. Movie takes place around 1958-60, I think (Mon Oncle is in theaters), while the events on which it’s based would have been in the 40’s. In the end, the magician does not get the girl pregnant then abandon her. Instead she meets a nice boy closer to her own age and goes off with him, the illusionist quietly leaving town unmissed by his now-destitute vaudeville friends.

No spoken dialogue in any real language, just mumblings, like those animated shorts from weird countries that purposely include no dialogue so their movie can play festivals without need for subtitles or dubbing. Katy liked it alright but found it too sad, told me it’s at least better than Triplets, complimented the animation remarking on the characters’ physical presence, the heaviness of their steps.

It’s hard for me to write about Jacques Tati movies, since mostly what I do is recount a movie’s story and actors I’ve seen before, and Tati films have almost no story and no actors I’ve seen before. Watched this one because I’d just seen M. Hulot’s Holiday when I found out The Illusionist would be playing theaters here, and thought I’d keep the Tati ball rolling.

Tati himself stars as a town postman inspired by an American newsreel and by his taunting neighbors to deliver the mail faster and more efficiently. So at least it has more of a story than M. Hulot’s Holiday (its story: “everyone is on vacation”) but really it’s the same type of movie as Holiday, gently introducing a bunch of characters and setting up unassuming comic situations which overlap in time and place, as Tati’s character guides us around town. This time I had even less sense than usual of who’s who in the cast, possibly because we watched the roughly-restored color version (first French film to be shot in color) on our TV, and in the wide shots (most of the film seems to be wide shots) faces looked blurry.

Funny that while he was breaking technological barriers, experimenting with color in this film and with scale in Playtime, he made such backward-looking movies. This may as well have been a silent film, and The Illusionist looks wistfully back from the late 50’s towards the heyday of vaudeville. Parade was his final anachronism, being one of the first-ever features shot on video and featuring mime performances in a circus tent. I can’t say I fell in love with Jour de fete, just found it to be a pleasant good time, but something about Tati’s movies and his career always keeps me fascinated, so I’m sure I’ll come back to watch it again.

I saw this ages ago and didn’t get it. Now that I’ve enjoyed Mon Oncle and seen Playtime a few times, I wasn’t thrown by Tati’s Buster Keatonesque style – series of gags setting up the next series of gags, with funny sound effects but almost no dialogue. Other notable similarities to Playtime: jokes about malfunctioning technology (mostly automobiles, but also an indecipherable train station announcement speaker) and an extended delay before the first appearance of our hero Tati/Hulot.

It’s a weirdly understated gag movie – some big slapstick scenes like when Hulot sets off a box full of fireworks, but mostly more subtle. There are enough unnamed characters intersecting in different ways in each scene to make Altman proud (I especially noticed a young woman with a Princess Leia hairdo).

I watched the original full-length version – most DVDs only have Tati’s own re-edit from the 70’s. I’m sure that by the time I rent the Criterion and watch the shorter version I won’t be able to precisely recall the differences. Half of Tati’s movies exist in multiple versions – Jour de fete is in black and white and color, Mon Oncle is in French and English and Playtime had a bunch of different edits.

Leia with an insufferable leftist who insists on talking politics while everyone is on vacation:

Hulot annoying a hotel worker:

A tumbling act vaults in different styles according to their costumes (hockey players, military parade). Magicians one-up each other. The audience participates. We go backstage and into the lobby. Tati mimes at different sports (badminton, soccer, fishing)…

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Not a documentary of a circus performance but a film (make that a video, one of the first video-shot features, after 200 Motels) with a circus performance in it. Doesn’t look like an existing, functioning circus but a soundstage with paid extras for audience members, complete with choreographed “backstage” scenes. Amused me as well as any real circus (and more than Fellini’s The Clowns). Video quality on my copy was below average, but the editing (and lack of talking heads/announcers/titles) differentiates it from, say, a period PBS special on a circus, and the pacing would confirm Tati as director, rather than simply performer, even if his name wasn’t there in the credits. Whole thing has an attractive draw to it… I liked it better than I thought I should, can’t say just why.

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Rosenbaum has a good theory: “[a] gag is more likely to make us smile than laugh; but the cumulative effect of dozens of such underplayed gags is to make reality itself seem both slightly off-kilter and alive with comic possibilities––every moment brims with potential gags that often require an audience’s alert participation in order to be noticed at all.” He has written a long, perceptive article which makes me want to watch this again immediately.

Wow, this is one of my favorite movies now. I was right about watching it in the theater (on film)… really helped see everything properly. More important, possibly, was seeing it for a second time, already knowing the pace and the organization of story (such as there is a story), being able to sit back and enjoy.

First third (?) of the movie is an architectural dream, all buildings and structure and angles, beautiful and disorienting. Whole movie is concerned with structure and glass.

Funny, but not punchline-funny so much as enjoyable and light, building up towards the end of the crazy restaurant sequence when suddenly humor’s flying from all directions.

I feel like I “got it” this time, but also feel like I missed a lot. Not in a bad way, more in a “could see this again and again” way.

I’d thought Mr. Hulot wasn’t in this one but of course he is. What was I thinking of… Parade?

Katy, Jimmy, Misty, even Adam liked it.