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.