Talking Pictures

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Jour de fête

Posted by keith1942 on September 16, 2010


France 1947. Directed and co-scripted by Jacques Tati.

Shot in both an experimental Thomsoncolor version and black and white: when it proved impossible to process the colour version the film was released in black and white. Tati produced a colourised version in 1961 with some additional footage and sound. Then in 1995 François Ede and Sophie Tatischeff produced a version that successfully restored the original colour footage, and added a new re-recorded soundtrack. This is the version commonly available. 81 minutes. Some French with English subtitles.

Jacques Tai had already made a short film, L’Ecole de facteurs, in 1946, which prefigures Jour de fête. L’Ecole … was a short film is about a cycling postman who attempts to modernise his service. This is exactly the narrative of the latter part of Jour de fête, and in fact most of the sight gags around postmen are common to both films. Much of the addition in the later feature film concerns events in the village setting of Sainte-Sévére [called Follainville in the film]. An earlier version of the script was titled Fête au village.

Well over half the film is an affectionate and gently satirical portrait of a French provisional village and the great occasion of a visiting fair. Unlike his later films, whilst the Tati character, François the postman, is central, much of the plot and the humour relies on other characters and the situations in the village. Moreover, there is a sort of recurring commentary through the character of hunch-backed peasant woman with a goat. She re-appears throughout the film, and her comments are like those of a Greek chorus.

Essentially the first half of the film shows the arrival of a travelling fair in the village, with François the postman involved in most of the action. In the last half-an-hour the focus is entirely on François as he attempts to speed up his postal deliveries by employing methods that he mistakenly attributes to the US postal service.

His misapprehensions arise from a [fake] documentary shown in the Cinema Tent at the fair, which purports to show some of the amazing techniques used in the US postal service. François guyed by the fair’s stallholders into attempting to emulate these techniques.

So the first half of the film is an affectionate portrait of a 1940s village, with gentle comic turns from both villagers and the postman. The latter part of the film is a series of visual gags mimed by the Tati character. A number of the gags are reminiscent of those of the great silent comics. A cross-eyed character in one scene reminds me of Ben Turpin.

This make the film rather different from his most famous features constructed around the figure of Monsieur Hulot, where Tati’s character dominates the plot and the screen. However, the film is close to the later features in its style and techniques. The film is predominantly shot in long shot and mid-shot [what the French call le plan americain]. The soundtrack devotes less attention to dialogue than in most mainstream films, preferring to concentrate on the noise of the action and the music that accompanies the action.

The character that Tati plays in the film is also recognisably similar to that of the later Hulot. Tall and large, sometimes incredibly awkward and sometimes notably graceful. François, like Tati, is both a source of amusement to characters but also a continuing disruption. Life and social intercourse rarely run smoothly when François is around.

In terms of values the film shares certain tendencies with the Hulot features. Modernity, or at least the fashionably modern, especially in the sense of technological innovation, is constantly undermined or subverted. As in the later films the quaint, the traditional and the old-fashioned seem to be preferred to the up-to-date and the fashionable. The peasant woman tells Francois at the end of the film, “And as for good news, it doesn’t go bad waiting a little while.” At this point Francois joins a group haymakers in a field whilst a young lad picks up his postman’s bag and sets off to complete his deliveries.

There is an added theme in Jour de fête: a satirical line on USA and its cultural invasion of Europe. The film clearly sends up US modernisation through the spoof documentary. But we also get in the film a brief appearance by US GIs who fail to interpret the French world they see before them. This presumably reflects in part a potent social movement of the late 1940s. A US aid package for France included extremely advantageous provisions for the Hollywood Film industry: and this was the subject of vocal and large protests in the late 1940s.

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