Trafic (1971)

This late career work by French comic master Jacques Tati has uncharacteristic pacing problems, though if you like automobiles, it is a charming snapshot of cars and trucks of the early 1970s.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Dir. Jacques Tati
1971 | France | Comedy | 97 mins | 1.37:1 | French
PG (passed clean)

Cast: Jacques Tati, Marcel Fraval, Honore Bostel, François Maisongrosse, Maria Kimberly
Plot: Mr. Hulot transports a recreational vehicle from Paris to Amsterdam in his usual comical, disastrous style.
Awards: Nom. for Best Film Music (BAFTA)
Source: Studiocanal

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Light
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
First Published: 18 Aug 2018
Spoilers: No

One might have to lower expectations whilst viewing Trafic, Jacques Tati’s penultimate feature, for his late career effort is nowhere as near the towering heights of his most famous films such as Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953), Mon oncle (1958) or possibly his greatest achievement, Playtime (1967). 

There is, of course, a certain charm to Tati’s cinema that pulls you in, especially his unique mix of whimsicality paired with sharp social commentary. In a way, Trafic continues his obsession with finding fault or ridicule with technology (in this case, automobiles), bureaucracy and modern society. 

Despite it being a weaker effort, there is still enough in its tank to entertain (if only in spurts), with moments of sheer ingenuity that remind us of Tati’s singular greatness.  If you are a fan or completist, this is as essential as any in his small body of work.

Monsieur Hulot (Tati himself) returns in his last outing as the designer of a prototype camping car, which will be showcased at an upcoming international car show in Amsterdam.  

Trafic details his effort in transporting the prototype on the road, only to meet with one delay after another in a mad dash to make it in time for the glamorous show.  Along the disastrous journey, Hulot meets kind people who help him, especially mechanics. 

In one of the film’s most interesting sequences, Hulot and co. are stuck in a police station after hurtling past border control, only to present with enthusiasm the wondrous innovations of the camping car to the men in blue.

In another sequence, perhaps the film’s most inspired scenario, Hulot causes a major accident with numerous cars involved.  Needless to say, it is hilarious and surreal to behold with wheels coming out of cars, and occupants so shell-shocked that when they exit their damaged vehicles they realised that they have been in them for too long and needed to collectively do stretching exercises.  These are amusing moments that Tati could only dream of.

With plentiful scenes of freeways and automobiles of every kind, Trafic is a charming snapshot of cars and trucks of the early 1970s.  I’m sure knowledgeable enthusiasts would be excited to be put to the test attempting to identify the models as they plough the roads or showcased in the aforesaid car show.

What keeps Tati’s film from being truly riveting, however, is its uncharacteristic pacing problems.  There are gags that go on for too long, while the narrative never really shifts into high gear. 

Moreover, the character of Maria, a PR spokesperson for Altra, the brand of the camping car, feels superfluous if also distracting.  If you can make it past all of these misgivings and still enjoy it for what it is worth, you are probably a true Tati fan.

Grade: B



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