Jour de Fête (Jacques Tati, 1949)
Once a year the fair comes for one day to the little town 'Sainte-Severe-sur-Indre'. All inhabiters are scoffing at Francois (Jacques Tati), the postman, what he seems not to recognize.
The first feature length film by actor/director Jacques Tati is also the only film in which his character talks. Obviously inspired by Buster Keaton’s physical comedy and Charlie Chaplin’s observation of the common people, Jour de fête is set in Sainte-Severe the village where Tati was hiding during the Second World War.
Tati’s films excels in making the viewer the witness of the everyday life and little to no moments. His use of deep focus is important because in every frame there is something going on and it might or might not catch our eye at first. More than often, serious action is in the front of the image while comedic action is in the back. It is a visual work of camera settings and construction of every frame that Tati elaborated and later perfected with Play Time for instance.
The themes of the lunatic postman François doing his tour in the village delivering and taking post demonstrate the old Europe and especially France. Taking his time, talking here and there. Everything changes when he watches a short film about US’s postal service and their obsession with fast delivery and efficiency. It demonstrates the clash of the civilization between two world; the old and the new. With the liberation by Americans, France changed and allowed more American culture with a whole bunch of American films and products. The film of Tati is like an homage to the village that kept him away from the War but also how his country was never the same after the whole fair that represents War and the Vichy Regime. It was far from an happy event, but it brought turned up and down the whole country of France just like the installation of the fair would do.
Tati often meditated on the progress and the slow evolution of urban life. With his comedies he makes a portrait of a time of constant change but also contemplating the present moment of the characters. The story is almost the story of the cameraman who is there and gazes at moments and bits of life. While not being celebrated as much as Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, Mon oncle, and Play Time, Jour de Fête is a great first effort by Tati and I hope will be more highlighted by the recent release of Criterion’s Complete Tati boxset which is a great gift for cinephiles all over the world.