Jour de Fête (Jacques Tati / France, 1949):

Blessed be the slowpokes, the peace of Jacques Tati upon them. The landscape might be Grant Wood’s Midwest except that it’s the Gallic countryside not long after the war, a tractor rounds a curve with a cargo of wooden horses right behind it. (A pair of equines spot the carousel effigies and trot away, naturellement.) Anticipation for the carnival lights up the placid village once a year (cf. I Vitelloni), everybody from mayor to bell-ringer joins the festivities but the mail still needs delivery. Enter Tati’s François the postman, unsmiling under a De Gaulle mustache yet with limbs like wobbly pistons, a slanting torso around which his mailbag spins. The pesky hornet on the hillside, the shaky flagpole in the town square, the goat with a taste for telegrams, these are his hurdles, a polka and a few shots of white wine take the edge off. Then a newsreel in the striped tent (after a nod to Renoir’s Arizona Jim), Yankee daredevils making deliveries with helicopters and parachutes. What’s a French letter carrier on a rickety, tinkling bicycle to do? "The Americans, let ‘em fly!" Wistful coziness and meticulous experimentation already comprise the captivating aesthetic in Tati’s feature debut, a paean to pastoral plainness along with an ode to modern rapidité. The comic invention is fast and fertile: Lumière’s arroseur falls through floorboards and becomes a fountain, the back of a moving truck doubles as a stamping office, a window opens to alter the composition and a door closes to reveal a mortuary. ("With Tati, French neo-realism was born," declares the very young Godard.) Porky’s Railroad, Ben Turpin the rail-splitter, the painted café chairs that will not dry and the lovelorn roulette-spinner who’ll go his way when the fair's over. "News is rarely good so let it take its sweet time," advises the cheerful old Greek Chorus. To the children it goes, in the beginning as in the very end (Parade). Cinematography by Jacques Mercanton. With Guy Decomble, Paul Frankeur, Santa Relli, Maine Vallée, Robert Balpo, and Delcassan. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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