Thoroughly Modern Man: The Comedic Sets of Jacques Tati
Emphasizing the intricacies of the cinematic set piece, comedic director Jacques Tati lovingly explored the human confusion of public space and private property. The airport, the department store, a labyrinthine office buildings, beach resort, village town and urban roundabout alike, Tati found unlikely architecture-inspired fantasy by conjuring that classic French ability to spot the ridiculous in the everyday. Often throwing his inimitable screen persona, M. Hulot, into the mix, other times just letting supporting faces and bodies get all caught up, Tati’s comedy doesn’t need dialogue so much as people entangled and enslaved to their surroundings.
MoMA’s current Jacque Tati retrospective includes all of Tati’s feature films, and a number of shorts. The early films are already canonical, while the 70s works, Traffic and Parade are grossly under-exhibited. And it’s difficult to dispute the transcendence of seeing Playtime (1967) on the big screen, a movie whose frames are filled with so many gags that most other mise-en-scene looks anemic by comparison.
If you have the time, none of these films should be missed. If you don’t have the time, Tati might not be your man, as the film are relatively long and involved. After sitting in the dark with any of these movies the rest of your shopping day in Midtown is bound to be a lot more interesting. You might find yourself entranced by the glide of the escalator, seduced by the sound of cash registers, or even adventuring crosstown on a crowded bus.
Films by Jaques Tati screen at MoMA through January 2, 2010