For his final outing, Monsieur Hulot is employed as an auto company’s director of design, and accompanies his new vehicle (a camper tricked out with absurd gadgetry) to an auto show in Amsterdam. Naturally, the road is paved with modern-age mishaps in Jacques Tati’s Trafic.
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I get the sense I'm in the distinct minority when I say this, but I prefer Trafic to Playtime. No accounting for taste as the saying goes; but I found the self-enclosed space of Playtime a little arid. With Trafic, you get out into the fresh air, on the road with some delightful characters. The set-piece gags are funny and choreographed beautifully, and the frames are still amusingly busy and surprising. Primo Tati.
Tati again reluctantly assumed the persona of Monsieur Hulot for this just attack on the overrunning of human culture by the automobile. His well meaning and endearing dupe and servant of the forces of environmental destruction is sidetracked and waylaid on his failed journey to deliver the car of the future to a trade show, demonstrating that cars can't really take us anywhere and it's the journey that matters.
The film is well worth watching, but I am missing the sharpness and conciseness of "Playtime" and "Mon oncle". There are still many remarkable features, but although regarding the extremely innovative work with narrative sound design "Trafic" is a step backwards.
In a way, it's a shame this movie exists, since Playtime was (as intended) the perfect goodbye to Hulot. The comedy that Tati conjures here isn't as rich, and for a moment it seems as if the modern world has won (you can practically smell the diesel). But it comes together beautifully as a celebration of pipe-dreams, and Tati still had a great eye for observation into the 70s. Screw it—I'm glad this movie exists.