Comprised of all six of the director’s small but remarkable directorial output, The Essential Jacques Tati Collection is a lovingly crafted celebration of one of France’s most beloved filmmakers, offering a timely reminder of just how influential he both was and continues to be. Perhaps more renowned for his cinematic, socially inept alter ego Monsieur Hulot – who he played to wide and memorable acclaim in four of his features, Tati was a particularly skilled filmmaker when it came to his deft mixing of perfectly choreographed physical comedy and themes regarding a Western fixation with consumerism and materialism, social class struggles and the (then) unsteady environment of modern society.
Though weighty in underlying discourse, his six features were nevertheless nimble excursions that are each as strong as the next, offering bitingly humorous depictions of the world we live in. Tati’s first feature, Jour de Fête (1949) is an airy visual comedy starring the director as hapless postman François, who takes several breaks from his daily routes and services to converse with, and aid, the local inhabitants of a French town. Whilst attempting to emulate the speedy transportation techniques of his American colleagues – to humorous avail – François also goes about helping to set up the travelling fair that has arrived in the close-knit community. Tati’s second film, Les Vacances de M. Hulot (1953) sees the birth of the everlasting character of Monsieur Hulot, he of the trademark pipe and umbrella.
Mon Oncle (1958) sees Hulot breaching a world of impersonality, stringent rules and solemnity by taking his young nephew, Gérard, under his wing, much to the chagrin of his austere mother. As a reaction to post-war France’s preoccupations with architecture and machinery, this is a remarkable film of ostensible minimalism and intricate physical comedy. Regarded as the pinnacle of Tati’s talents as a filmmaker and the apotheosis of his already established prowess, Playtime (1967) is a masterpiece of ambition that visualises a futuristic Paris and its denizens stifled by modernism and artificiality. Shot in 70mm, M. Hulot is set to secure a job in a high tech office when, after encountering a group of American tourists, disorder gradually ensues as he stumbles from one scene and set-piece to the next. In his final outing, Trafic (1971) sees Hulot as the clumsy designer of an experimental camper van who, on his way to an auto show in Amsterdam, encounters several obstacles and mechanical breakdowns.
Finally, in Parade (1974), Tati plays Monsieur Loyal, the compère to an interactive circus show that includes jugglers, magicians, musicians and acrobats. Produced specifically for Swedish television, Tati’s last is a commemoration of artistic expression that perfectly rounds out a career built on his singular cinematic voice and attitudes. Along with the six features, The Essential Jacques Tati Collection is rounded out by an additional disc, Les Courts Métrages, which contains seven of Tati’s short films and further analysis from film critic and academic Stéphane Goudet, whose insightful work is also sprinkled across a set that celebrates a figure who, as Buster Keaton labels “began where we finished”, and left an indelible mark on film history.