Welcome to the first ever post on Spell It Out Loud! I wasn’t sure what to write about for my first post as I envisage this blog as being a bit of a pick and mix. There will be the light, fluffy marshmallow posts – fun reviews of films/music/restaurants; the chewy, heavier toffee – articles about issues that affect me or just plain rile me; and the fizzy, fruity laces – creative pieces of fiction spiralling out of my brain getting tangled with all the other sweets.
So, what to eat on an empty stomach? Well taking this candy metaphor and stretching it to its limit- I’m going to take my bag of marshmallows and pop to the cinema. See you after the film!
Jour de Fête, a film by Jacques Tati
Right, I’m back from the Arlequin cinema (Paris 6) where a few old French films are now showing in their restored versions. I chose to see Jacques Tati’s “Jour de Fête” originally released in 1949. Translated into either ‘Holiday’ or ‘The Big Day’, it is a perfect film to celebrate my new blog!
I have only seen one Tati film before, the marvellous Mon Oncle, and so had high hopes for this one. I was not disappointed. Jour de Fête, a black and white comedy with minimal dialogue set in a small French village, had me (and the rest of the theatre) in stitches. The story begins with the arrival of the travelling fair and we see the travellers’ horse and carriage making its way through the countryside.
Tati succeeds in conjuring a chuckle from me within the first few minutes as we see them pass across the screen, the cart trailing behind full of wooden merry-go-round ponies stood to attention and poking out at strange angles. They already look silly against the fields, trussed up in their finery, but we are given a surprising and amusing tableau as the cart pulls past, revealing a farmer and his real horse, staring blankly at the strange passers by. Beautifully shot, beautiful comedy.
Tati himself plays the main character in the film, François the enthusiastic, well-meaning postman of the village. His daily routine is turned upside down by the arrival of the fair making for many hilarious slapstick moments, especially since François is inspired to take his posty skills to the next level after watching a projection of a film about the incredible postmen of the USA.
I never knew I was such a fan of slapstick but Jour de Fête is a great example of how effective simple physical comedy can be. It is a welcome break from the onslaught of CGI and 3-D, from the superheroes, monsters and robots dominating our summer screens. Tati’s comedy appears simple however this does not mean that it is simplified or naïve, behind the jokes you will find emotion and satire.
One of the funniest scenes (in fact I think by the end of it I had tears running down my cheeks) occurs after François is tricked into downing glass after glass of Armagnac, egged on by the two men from the fair. Tati manages to squeeze out every drop of cringe from the drunken antics of François without pushing it too far. Yet I can’t help but feel a slight twinge of pity for as his good nature is taken advantage of by these more worldly passers-through.
I also felt that Jour de Fête was a witty commentary on both modernity and globalisation (especially when you remember it was released in 1949 just a few years after World War 2.) This is a theme I recall from Mon Oncle, the mocking of our desire to turn our backs on tradition and adopt the modern ways. With this film we are laughing at François’s many attempts at imitating the efficient, helicoptering, parachuting “Américains” which are juxtaposed with the traditional, rural life: the old lady walking around with her goat on a lead, the pig in the middle of the road in the village.
We end the film as we started with a shot of a young boy skipping along behind the fairground horse and cart, leaving us with a romanticised image of youth, innocence and the future. I left the cinema with the feeling that Tati was reminding me, from 64 years ago, to sit back, slow down, to not expect modern gadgets to change my life.
More of the same, please!