Jacques Tati’s film seems like the perfect mode of expression in the post-war world. It’s boosted by lively, accordion-laden carnival music, with wry commentary from the old lady, and a bicycling postman, the mustachioed Francois (Tati himself). Use of sound becomes so integral to the comedy and the comedy is so important to the story because there isn’t much of a story. It’s populated by every type of livestock imaginable and you’re not quick to forget it because they’re constantly being heard and causing havoc, whether it’s a billy goat or a brood of chickens. It’s a little different feel, but Tati makes me think of Britain’s own quaint Postman Pat. He’s a little more humble than the U.S. Postal Service and his customers are a simpler sort of folk. Although he becomes obsessed with the American-style of mail delivery complete with helicopters and motorbikes. This leads to a frantic race to deliver the mail with the speed of Americans. But the French countryside was not meant to function like urban America. This is Tati’s critique of not simply American culture, but more so it’s reliance on technology. But he takes off any of the edge by delivering it through his charming, bumbling brand of humor.
Amid this meager plot, Francois finds time to help put up a flagpole and enjoy the local carnival that enters the small town. Not to mention being accosted by a very industrious fly. Fittingly, Tati seems to pull off the Buster Keaton sliding stop, giving the illusion of being out of control, when in reality he was a wonderful physical comedian. Much lengthier than his predecessor, but still memorable in his own right. His bike riding antics feel reminiscent of Keaton in Sherlock Jr.
Jour de Fete is not quite as enchanting as Tati’s later works, but part of that might be due to the absence of the Mr. Hulot persona. It’s his saga that we want to be a part of, and he’s the man we want to get to know. Right now the director is still exploring the world that would become more pronounced in his later films. However, Francois does not have quite the aura that Hulot could build. Truth be told, I was slightly thrown off by the colorization. I probably would have appreciated the straight black and white of M. Hulot’s Holiday or the vibrant color of Mon Oncle. But that is not to say that Jour de Fete is not at least a mildly fun romp.