Directed by Jacques Tati and written by Tati, Henri Marquet, and Rene Wheeler, Jour de Fete (The Big Day) is the story of a postman who unknowingly causes trouble on Bastille Day as a fair is happening in his small town. The film is Tati’s feature-film debut as a director that exemplify his unique approach to physical comedy as he also stars in the film as the postman. Also starring Guy Decomble, Paul Frankeur, and Santa Relli. Jour de Fete is a whimsical though messy film from Jacques Tati.
Bastille Day is coming for a small town as a traveling fair group arrives for the celebration as the whole town is excited. Meanwhile, the postman Francois (Jacques Tati) is riding around town delivering mail as he causes all sorts of trouble in his job while trying to help the festival people in planting a flag stamp. On the day of the festival, Francois wanders around as a lot happens where he gets drunk and watches a film about the American postal service. Prodded by the people in town about the American way of postal service, Francois decides to try and deliver the mail their way leading to a lot of trouble.
The film is about the life of a postman in a small town during Bastille Day where he tries to deliver the mail and ends up causing some trouble. Notably as he sees a film about the American mail service prompting him to keep up with their modern style. While the character is merely a prototype for what Jacques Tati would do with the more silent Monsieur Hulot character in later films. While there’s a few subplots in the film such as a fairground man (Guy Decomble) staring at some young girl (Maine Vallee). It all revolves around this postman as the story at times meanders due to its lack of a strong plot. Particularly in the second act where there’s a lot going on but there is nothing to keep it holding together.
Despite the messiness of the script, Tati’s direction does have some charming elements though the print of the film is messy in some spots. Particularly as Tati was hoping to shoot the film in color as he also shot the film in black-and-white for insurance reasons. While there is some colorization in some parts of the film for the fair scene, it does have a look that is dazzling as Tati engages through what is happening. In his approach to comedy, it is clear that Tati learns from the likes of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin in terms of creating a physicality to the comedy. There’s some great scenery and wide shots that showcase the town and locations as well as some intimate moments. In spite of the film’s script, Tati is able to create a fun and entertaining film.
Cinematographers Jacques Mercanton and Jacques Sauvageot do some nice work with the black-and-white photography for a bright look for the daytime exterior scenes along with some low-light looks for the nighttime stuff though some of the interior shots are presented in a grainy film stock. Editor Marcel Morreau does some very good work with the editing where a bit of jump-cuts play up to some of the gags that revolve in the film.
Set decorator Rene Moulaert does an excellent job with the set pieces created such as the tavern and the game booths for the fair. Costume designer Jacques Cottin does fine job with the costumes to play up small town look with its casual clothing and the much looser look of Francois. The sound work of Jacques Maumont is brilliant for playing up the excitement of the bar scenes and the fair as well as the gags that Francois is involved in. The film’s score by Jean Yavote is the film’s real highlight for playing up the humor with an array of flouring melodies from its woodwinds, strings, and xylophones.
The cast is wonderful as it features some notable appearances from Paul Frankeur as the artist Marcel, Santa Relli as the fairground traveler’s wife, Guy Decomble as the traveler, and Maine Vallee as the young girl that the traveler pines for. Finally, there’s Jacques Tati as the postman Francois who is just a likeable yet helpful guy who is often distracted by other things while being put into pressure to keep up with the times. Tati brings a very humorous yet charming performance in his role despite having to speak as his strength is in his pantomime approach to the performance.
Jour de Fete is a good and charming film from Jacques Tati despite the lack of a strong plot. While it’s a debut feature that has some of the great physical comedy that Tati is known for plus some wonderful colorization for a few parts of the film. It’s a film that doesn’t have a very linear storyline that makes it meander at times. Despite its shortcomings in delivering a strong story, Jour de Fete is still an entertaining film from Jacques Tati.
Jacques Tati Films: Monsieur Hulot's Holiday - Mon Oncle - Playtime - Trafic - Parade - The Short Films of Jacques Tati - The Auteurs #49: Jacques Tati
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