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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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.
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 understands the modern world in ways other directors don’t. He sees the humor and the absurdity, but he doesn’t put it down, he lovingly celebrates our silly societies with care and affection. He sees us struggle and sees how we move and relate and interact, and how we look when we are doing just that. He gets the beauty and humor in everyday life, and he helps the audience see his unique vision as well.
Despite the occasional moment of comic precision, Trafic is dominated by an unexpected sense of apathy towards it's central concept. Tati, through Hulot, is less orchestral in the demise of good intentions, the comedy becoming less farcical and more abstract. As a critique of our struggles to adapt to ever changing technology it's still relevant, I've just come to expect a level of charm from Tati that Trafic lacked.
I'm watching this film again today, and I always enjoy it. It's just a wonderful comedy and very cinematically appealing. I always love Maria Kimberley, the American model who plays the young press agent who is always changing outfits. She's a beautiful girl, and this was the only movie she ever appeared in.
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.
Tati continues his mockery of modernism, taking his barely-there insight on the road. Perhaps the one idea I truly liked in this were the brief interludes of people acting publicly in the perceived privacy of their cars. That and the mid-film pile-up which was truly inspired. Otherwise nothing special in Tati's tenet that technology progresses and humans flounder behind. I miss the magic here.