With Oscar hunting season in full swing perhaps an obscure French director from half a century ago is not the best topic for an article. And yet with all the fascinating movies that came out in 2012 and particularly these past few months none of them not even the cinematographic masterpiece that is Lincoln or the sweet heart-warming story of Moonrise Kingdom or the highly anticipated Zero Dark Thirty can compare to Tati’s work. Of course comparing a Tati film to the three above is a bit absurd. It would be like comparing a Rolex to a Rolls Royce. Both are luxurious and astounding but they have little else in common.
JaquesTati only made 5 and a half movies (most of which can be seen on-line, for instance through the charter cable internet streaming service or even netflix) and was rewarded for it with an Oscar and a spot on the Entertainment Weekly list of the 50 Greatest Directors list. All of his movies starred the same character, Monsieur Hulot, a well meaning but bumbling gentleman played by Tati himself. Tati’s movies scarcely have any dialogue in them so little in fact that they make Blow Up seem like a Woody Allen movie. He was also obsessed with highlighting the absurdity of modern architecture, modern art and pretty much everything modern.
How did he ever make it as a director then? You might ask yourself. The answer is simple. Jacques Tati was not only a flawless comedian of the absurd in the vein of Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean but with a lot more subtlety, he was also one of the most technical directors in the history of cinema. JaquesTatihas pioneered the technique of the Long Scene, the scene that appears to stretch into infinity, usually with either a lot or nothing much going on in the shot. Tati’s scenes were arduously choreographed, particularly those that stretched on as he refused to use shorter cuts.
Tati’s bid at immortality came through an ambitious plan. After receiving just about every honor that he could have received, including the Oscar for best foreign film, the Jury Prize at Cannes and the New York Critics Association prize for Mon OncleTati decided to create his masterpiece. He sunk most of his personal finances and went well into debt to create the truly stunning Play Time, his strongest jab at the absurdity of the modern lifestyle. The movie took nine years and bankrupted him eventually, ruining his career but it stands firm as one of the greatest films ever produced and a deeply personal movie, shedding some light into the obsessive soul of a mad genius.
Tati died in 1982 but his legacy lives on through the works of directors that he’s inspired like David Lynch or Steven Spielberg. And three decades after his death and six decades after Jour de Fete he is just as beloved, if not more.
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