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Great presentation, disappointing film
on 17 October 2004
This BFI DVD of the 126-minute restoration (actually 125mins - a full minute is taken up with restoration credits) of Tati's monumental box-office failure is fairly impressive. The colour is good, the extras informative (although the absence of the short film 'Cours de Soir' Tati shot on the set is galling). There's only one real problem - the film itself. It's the very definition of a Marmite movie.
It's technically accomplished yet still at times astonishingly bad in its obssessive minimalism. It's not really a matter of finding the jokes unfunny - there are practically no jokes to find, funny or otherwise. Nor is there plot, nor characterization. It's a horrendously drawn-out catalog of nothing. Where some comedies are all set-up and no payoff, this doesn't even have the set-up or, when it does (as in the interminable restaurant scene) it will take a quarter of an hour setting up a not very good gag. I just sat there in increasingly stunned disbelief at how little there was there.
The design is interesting, but Tati seems to think that it is enough and never really uses the environment, as if he is at a loss for what to do with his expensive train set. In many scenes he just stands still in a corner of the set while we watch the extras doing nothing. For a very, very long time. And while Tati does fill the screen with multiple characters doing multiple things in multiple areas of the frame, none of them are ever in much danger of actually doing anything funny or remotely interesting.
There are the germs of a good idea here and there - the identical posters of capital cities, Barbara's sad expression at the reflection of the Eiffel Tower as she enters the exhibition hall that has become the new staple of the tourist itinery, the idea (but not the execution) of people staring at the same point of the wall housing their TVs in an ultramodern apartment - but like the not funny the first time running gag of various passers-by being mistaken for the mostly absent M. Hulot, they get lost in the surrounding inertia. Only the gag with the doorman and the smashed door is really worthy of the Tati who gave us Jour de Fete or Ecole des Facteurs. The wonder is not that Tati bankrupted himself on this folly but that he ever thought there was anything there to make the risk worthwhile.
For Tati completists only.