Watching films with French treasure Mr. Hulot (Jacques Tati) is a wonderful experience because, in some respects, it feels like he brings out the child in me. And if history is any indication — I’m not the only one — others feel this sensation too.
It’s not sophisticated humor. The laughs are not dependent on any amount wit or mature understanding, but it’s universal. Everyone, whatever age, language or temperament, can laugh along with Monsieur Hulot.
Once more it’s easy to see his debt to the great silent stars and his use of sound is always impeccable yet still outrageous in the same breath. It accentuates anything on the screen with auditory hyperbole that is absolutely brilliant. Any sound imaginable is amplified in Tati’s memorable everyday comedic symphony of noise.
If you wanted a plot Trafic, as expected, has very little. Mr. Hulot, for a reason not explained to us, is now working for an automobile company named Altra that is preparing for a big car show in Amsterdam. He along with a truck driver named Marcel and Ms. “Public Relations” (American model Maria Kimberly) must weather the roads and every hiccup imaginable to make it to the show on time. She streaking in her bright yellow convertible and they riding in their truck cursed with flat tires and an empty gas tank among other ailments. It’s hardly a spoiler to say that they don’t quite make it there on schedule.
Jacques Tati was always one to playfully nudge at our modern culture obsessed with technology, expedience and, of course, automobiles. However, there’s nothing terribly vindictive about the way he goes about it. In contrast to the images of hustle and bustle and “progress,” there are also a great many that take comfort in the tranquility of farm life or quaint cottages. Everyday people and their mundane lives that, while idiosyncratic, are in no way inconsequential. He is a director who makes us appreciate people more. Mechanics, old couples, even cats, and dogs.
Many viewers undoubtedly will remember the crazy traffic jam with cars careening everywhere, hubcaps and tires rolling every which way and so on. It’s comedic madness. In fact, for numerous reasons, it’s easy to juxtapose Trafic with an earlier French film of a very different sort, Jean-Luc Godard’s political satire Weekend, which has some massive traffic of its own. And Tati creates comparable chaos, mischief and so on but I prefer his method of execution. Because he finds the charm and humor in every situation — even a car accident (with the multitudes simultaneously relieving the cricks in their joints). There’s no spite, cynicism or anything of that sort. He doesn’t feign pretentiousness, choosing instead to remain comically genuine right to the end.
That’s why there’s something so endearing and satisfying about Mr. Hulot. He remains unchanged and unmarred by the world around him. We can count on him to be the same as he ever was — the same hat, the same coat, the same pipe and the same hesitant gate. Maybe his adventures are not the most titillating. Some people admittedly will not like Trafic. It’s either too meandering like Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday or too jumbled compared to the exquisite patchwork ballet that makes up Tati’s earlier masterwork Playtime.
But, no matter, Tati is still a joy for what he brings to the screen, for those who are acquainted with his work and those who are willing to join an ambling adventure full of small nuggets of humor. Here is a film that through inconspicuous nose picking, windshield wipers, and road rage tells us more about humanity than many other more ostentatious films are able to manage. Trafic is certainly worthwhile.