Tuesday, April 26, 2011

#439: Trafic

(Jacques Tati, 1971)

Trafic is Tati's follow-up to his masterpiece, Playtime. Because that film performed so poorly at the box office, Tati had to make Trafic for much less money and funding issues hounded his production. The end result lacks the big budget sets from Playtime, but it also lacks its sparkle.

The movie is still undeniably charming. Loosely centered around a group of car public relations people (with Hulot at the head) hauling a camping car to a road show on the back of a big truck, the movie is no different than Tati's other Hulot films in that it ties a series of comic adventures into an overarching story that is a commentary on modern life.

It has been said that all humor is inherently angry, but I can think of no better exception than Tati. His work in Trafic focuses on the car culture that by the 1970s had taken hold across the world, but as in his other films, Tati is less interested in criticizing this culture than he is in observing it. The humor comes out of the funny things people do around cars and the gap between this behavior and their natural behavior. Many of these moments aren't even jokes, such as the montages of people picking their nose or yawning, but are instead observations of a culture - as if the film was a National Geographic expose on an undiscovered tribe.

Because the film has longer stretches of observation between its jokes, the pacing can be slow - much slower than in Playtime where, true to its title, there is always something new to distract you. The Hulot character was beside the point in Playtime, but here he seems against it - Tati only used Hulot to get funding for the film, and clearly the character that existed in M. Hulot's Holiday or even Mon Oncle has been mostly eliminated, the cropped trousers and Tati's bumbling walk all that's left of a comedy icon. Not only because of this, Trafic feels like a last film even though it technically isn't. Tati's work here still has the same effortless charm of his earlier films, but the magic seems to be wearing off.

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