After having previously released director Jacques Tati's 'Monsieur Hulot's Holiday', 'Mon oncle', and 'Trafic' on DVD and 'Playtime' on DVD and Blu-ray, The Criterion Collection have acquired his first and final features, 'Jour de fete' and 'Parade', along with a collection of short films to create 'The Complete Jacques Tati'.
'Jour de fete' (1949) 4 stars
Tati stars as Francois, a postman character he previously played three years earlier in 'L'école des facteurs', a short film that found him directing solo for the first time, which is included on the Tati Shorts disc. A traveling fair comes to the small French village of Saite-Severe-sur-Indre that Francois services and the local folks are excited about their arrival. There's a funny bit where a film is running playing dialogue for a romantic scene while what seem like potential love interests appear in the frame.
Francois is a kind fellow though is a bit clumsy and goofy and enjoys alcohol a little more than he should as people frequently ask him to have a drink at all hours of the day. He's seen riding his bike into a bar and somehow ends upstairs with his bike flying out the window. Everyone has come to accept the mail will come whenever he brings it, but Tati sets up an oncoming change as Francois and a friend watch a newsreel about the U.S. postal service in a scene that goes on way too long. This sets up a very funny climax involving Francois and his unmanned bike as he tries to do things the modern American way.
'Monsieur Hulot's Holiday' (1953) 4.5/5
The main feature offered is the 1978 re-release of the film, re-edited by Tati to a 12-minute-shorter run time and with an updated sound mix. Rather than revisiting Francois, 'Monsieur Hulot's Holiday' introduces Tati's signature character, Monsieur Hulot, who would appear in four films. Known for his hat, pipe, raincoat, and occasionally stilted movements, the character and many of the bits he performs could easily have been in silent comedies, which help Tati lampoon modernity. But 'Holiday' isn't a silent film as Tati makes great use of sounds to enhance the characters and the comedy, from Hulot's rickety car that is almost too small for him to the memorable sound of a bass pluck every time the hotel's dining-room doors swing open.
Hulot and a cast of characters that Tati and co-screenwriter Henri Marquet use to provide subtle commentary, such as a pretty blond girl, a former major, a young intellectual, and an older married couple, descend upon a beachside resort for a summer vacation. Hulot makes himself known to the guests and staff when he arrives by letting the wind rush in the lobby front door and disrupt them, and continues to be the focal point of many funny gags from a boat that scares beach-goers to the wild climatic fireworks scene. Like a vacation, 'Monsieur Hulot's Holiday' provides a wonderful escape, is an enjoyable experience, and leaves one with a bit of sadness that it's over.
'Mon oncle' (1958) 4/5
Winner of the 1958 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, 'Mon oncle' deals with the theme of a man at odds with the encroaching modern world as Hulot is seen in his first color film. The opening credits appear on signs in front of a new building project. It contrasts with the film's title, what his nephew Gérard calls him, which is written on rocks.
Hulot's character becomes more defined here as his life is contrasted with that of his sister Madame Arpel. He is unmarried, has no job, and lives in a small apartment. She is married to Monsieur Arpel and is a homemaker in a modern home intended to impress and reveal status. They have an elaborate water fountain they turn on when company is over and startled to see a leaf in their perfectly manicured garden.
Tati derives comedy out of Hulot attempting to fit into this world. Their chairs aren't designed for comfortable sitting and he has trouble with the gadgets in their kitchen. His sister wants to set him up with a female neighbor and her husband eventually gets him a job at the plastic factory he works at. But given enough time Hulot unintentionally manages to create comic situations due to his not properly fitting in place.
Read Drew Taylor's review
Although Tati is playing Hulot, the character seems quite different from his past appearances. Here, he works in the Altra car factory as the lead designer of the new model of camping car that the company is planning on debuting at a large car expo in Amsterdam. Although he has an artistic job, there is still something slightly strange seeing Hulot embrace the modern world and working within it.
Yet, Tati hasn't. As our characters take to the road for Amsterdam, he comments on society with montages where people sit in their slowly moving cars, looking a bit like animals in cages, and we see them picking their nose and scratching their faces. He also takes a knock at government bureaucracies as Hulot and his group get stopped at the Netherlands border because they don't have the proper paperwork. The scene goes on too long as every element of the car is revealed, which feels more like the screenwriters trying to look clever with all the gadgets they created.
Although the film has some funny bits, especially a great scene of car accidents at an intersection, it meanders too much and seems to lose focus. Even at 97 minutes, it feels long due to scenes that accomplish very little. There was a weird one where some hippies walking by pull a prank and make it look like the dog of the Altra's PR woman Maria has been run over, but one of them has to lose his jacket, so it makes little sense.
Shot on various formats, 35 mm, 16 mm, and video, Tati's final film was created for Swedish television and sees him return to his beginnings as a music-hall performer. The stage and audience seats give the feel of a circus and he performs bits where he mimes being a boxer and playing soccer. Acrobats appear on the stage and in filmed inserted pieces, and there are performances by a magician and juggler. Tati plays with the viewer as a scene where audience members who are asked to take part and ride a mule must be plants because of what they do and how dangerous the stunts are.
Tati captures a type of entertainment that was dwindling in popularity when compared to movies and television. It's a fitting farewell to the nostalgia of the music hall and from Tati, who didn't make another feature and died on November 4, 1982. Much of the material not performed in front of the audience, whether people milling about the theater or the filmed segments, such as when gymnasts dressed like hockey players rough up an orchestra and jump over a piano, come off as odd and don’t add much.
Tati Shorts is a mixture of material from over the years. The first three are shorts he acted in. They feature slapstick humor and have familiar premises as he searches for a persona. 'On demande une brute' (1934) (23min) is about an actor (Tati) unknowingly taking a job wrestling. 'Gai Dimanche' (1935) (21 min) finds Tati as one of a pair of tramps trying to make money with schemes. 'Soigne ton gauche' (1936) (13 min) goes back to the squared circle as a farmer dreams of becoming a boxer. The previously mentioned 'L'école des facteurs' (1946) (15 min) features some bits Tati would reuse in 'Jour de fete'. 'Cours du soir' (1967) (27 min) was shot during 'Playtime' on that film's sets with Tati, dressed like but not playing Hulot, playing a man teaching a night class about miming and physical comedy. 'Dégustation maison' (1977) (13 min) is a short directed by his daughter Sophie shot in the same town 'Jour de fete'. She finished the soccer documentary 'Forza Bastia' (1978) (27 min) in 2000 after discovering the footage her father shot.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The Criterion Collection presents 'The Complete Jacques Tati' on seven 50 GB Region Blu-ray discs. They boot up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements. Each disc has its own cardboard case and all the cases are housed in a cardboard slipcover along with a 62-page booklet featuring four essays by critics James Quandt, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Kristin Ross, and David Cairns and notes about the transfers.
'Jour de fete' (3.5/5) has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC that is displayed at its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The liner notes reveal "this new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from two fine-grain nitrate prints at L'Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, Italy, where the film was also restored, in 2k resolution."
Film grain is evident. The grays look very good across the spectrum. Blacks are rich but can crush, like a woman's hat disappearing into the darkness when she is in a bar and Francois being engulfed in the shadows when driving home after a night of drinking. There is great contrast between light and dark. However, interiors look dimmer as blacks become darker, the image grainier, the edges of objects get softer. This also occurs in the day-for-night shot involving a train car. There's a brief speck of dirt top of frame when he leaves a house, and flicker on display in the scene with the MPs.
'Monsieur Hulot's Holiday' (4.5/5) has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC that is displayed at its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. "This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a Spirit 4k film scanner from an interpositive made from the original nitrate negative at Technicolor in Burbank, California where the film was also restored."
There's a slight jitter during the opening credits but then the image stabilizes. The black and white cinematography looks stunning. There's a wide spectrum of grays presented and blacks are rich. A natural amount of grain can be seen. The image delivers sharp details and great depth. There's a slight bit of aliasing on the young blond girl's polka dot robe. Otherwise, it's a fantastic image.
'Mon oncle' (4.5/5) has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC that is displayed at its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. "This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution from the edited camera negative at Arane-Gulliver in Clichy, France, where the film was also restored, in 2k resolution."
Colors appear in strong hues with the sister's home making the best use of a variety of them, especially in contrast to the city, which is comprised of a lot of dull grays and blues. Both blacks and whites are well rendered. A great scene showing off the latter is a scene of Hulot in his sister's kitchen. Film grain looks natural and the shots showing off depth don't sacrifice the clarity of objects in the background.
'PlayTime' (4.5/5) has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC that is displayed at its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. "This new digital transfer was created in 6.5K resolution from the original 65 mm negative, a 1967 internegative, and a 2002 interpositive at Arane-Gulliver in Clichy, France; the film was restored in 4k resolution at L'Immagine Ritrovata."
In the opening sequence, the many shades of gray come through very well. Tati limits his use of color as Hulot and others make their way through the city building, but they really pop when he does, such as the reds. Sharp lines and edges are on display. The nightclub scene reveals how well the transfer handles blacks. The image has great depth, in part because Tati planned to have so much going on within them. The only problem that arises from this level of clarity is it's more obvious when he uses cutouts for people in the background.
'Trafic' (4.5/5) has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC that is displayed at its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. "This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the original negative at Éclair in Epinay-sue-Siene, France, where the film was also restored."
Just as Hulot embraces the modern world, so too does the film's production design. There is a greater use of colors, which look clean and bright, and lessening of grays. The greens of the foliage along the route and the orange-yellow of Maria's convertible are standouts. Depth and clarity appear consistently well done, allowing for textures to come through as in the fine detail on logs.
'Parade' (3/5) has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC that is displayed at its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. "This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the 35 internegative at Éclair…where the film was also restored."
'Parade' is understandably limited by its source. The video recorded segments have duller colors and weak blacks. They also suffer from limited depth and poor clarity with some objects even trailing when moved too quickly. Meanwhile, the filmed portions show improvements in every area.
"The original monaural ['Jour de fete'] soundtrack (3.5/5) was remastered at 24-bit at L.E Diapason in Epinay-sue-Siene, France, from the optical tracks of the two fine-grain nitrate prints used in the restoration." Dialogue is clear and the tracks sounds free of age or defect. The orchestra playing the score distorts when it gets too loud, causing the blaring brass instruments to sound terrible. Otherwise, it is free of signs of wear or defect.
"The original monaural ['Monsieur Hulot's Holiday'] soundtrack (4/5) was remastered at 24-bit at L.E Diapason…from the soundtrack negative of…Tati's final 1978 mix." Voices are clear, though many times used in the background to identify characters rather than reveal what they are saying. An iconic plucking of bass strings rings out every time the swinging dining-room doors are used. The fireworks shriek and explode, demonstrating a good dynamic range.
"The original monaural ['Mon oncle'] soundtrack (3.5/5) was remastered at 24-bit at L.E Diapason…from the optical track off the negative." Dialogue is clear as intended and effects are amplified for humor, like the neighbor's riding lawn mower. The dynamic range is limited because it's not required to do much.
"The 3.0 surround soundtrack ['PlayTime'] soundtrack (4.5/5) was remastered at 24-bit at L.E Diapason…from Tati's final 1978 70 mm 6-track mix." This track makes great use of space as it positions different sounds around and across the surround space, particularly in scenes where action is taking place in foreground and background. The music from the nightclub's jazz band sounds clear but a bit flat revealing it was added in post.
"The original monaural ['Trafic'] soundtrack (3.5/5) was remastered at 24-bit at L.E Diapason…from the original 35mm magnetic soundtrack of the film's final sound mix." Dialogue intended to be heard is clear and understandable. The car sounds have a good bass rumble, but the effects during the traffic accident sound a tad hollow and inauthentic. No signs of wear or defect.
"The original monaural ['Parade'] soundtrack (3.5/5) was remastered at 24-bit at L.E Diapason…from the original magnetic track." Dialogue is clear yet limited in its use, as many of the performances don't involve speaking to the audience. The effects in conjunction with Tati's bits come through loud and clear. The music has good dynamics and the instruments come through with satisfying clarity.
Jour de fete
Monsieur Hulot's Holiday
Even if the films and the high-definition transfers aren't all to one's tastes, and I have stated my issues with above, I still find myself highly recommending Criterion's 'The Complete Jacques' set.
To be able to own and study the works and career of Tati, a man considered by many to be a siginificant contributor in the history of cinema, at a price cheaper than it would cost to take a college course about the man, I don't know how it can be passed up.