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  Trafic My Way Or The Highway
Year: 1971
Director: Jacques Tati
Stars: Jacques Tati, Marcel Fraval, Honoré Bostel, François Maisongrosse, Tony Knepper, Franco Ressel, Mario Zanuelli, Maria Kimberly
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Mr Hulot (Jacques Tati) now has a job designing motor cars, but he finds his job more hectic than he would like as he skulks into work today and into his office hoping nobody has seen him. The reason that things are heating up is that there is an expo for automobiles in Amsterdam this weekend, and pride of place for the company that employs Hulot will be taken by his latest vehicle, the camping car. But there remains a problem, as they have to get it from Paris to its destination, which will be easier said than done what with the accumulation of mishaps due to follow Hulot and those he is travelling with...

The last ever Monsieur Hulot film was greeted with a more muted response than Jacques Tati's previous work, as if the great French comedian had finally faltered creatively after his overambitious, previous effort, Playtime. That had seen huge sets built to his specifications, and a cast of what seemed like thousands, all for the sake of propping up some subtle sight gags, so evidently Tati had decided to scale things down for his follow up, although in fact there were set ups in this that were no less ambitious. Indeed, some of the jokes in Trafic were among the comedian's most cleverly thought out, perhaps proving that a huge budget was not always the key to tickling the audience's funny bone.

However, there's a reputation that Tati still has to this day that he was somehow catering exclusively for the rarefied air of the intellectual, and that his style was far too precise, too considered, to be appreciated by most cinemagoers, as if he was exclusively intended for film snobs to laugh at while the rest of us hooted at Adam Sandler and Sacha Baron Cohen. Yet if you see Trafic you can see that, yes, a lot of thought had gone into the setpieces, but there was no way that Tati wasn't amusing in what he was bringing to the humour table, and there were a good number of laugh out loud moments contained herein, and not so that you would have to spend a couple of minutes seeking them out and thinking them over before you got the joke.

If you've seen an Hulot movie before, you'll recognise that there's no way that he's going to reach that expo, so what you essentially have is a road movie, although not one which is more about the cars than the people. Tati was only interested in the vehicles so far as they told us about their drivers and passengers, being more enchanted with the possibilities of displaying to us their eccentricities and behavioural quirks, as brought out by the cars and trucks and motorbikes they chose to drive. If this sounds dry, and there are those who will try to persuade you that it is, it's really more relaxing as you know the worst thing that will happen is that the camping car won't get where it's supposed to be going.

And while that gets some of the characters overexcited, the message is that it's not worth becoming angry about, as we take a tip from Hulot and take every obstacle as it comes, for most of life is kind of silly. Tati adopted an almost scientific eye to the people in this film, so we don't get too close to them but can sympathise with the way they are feeling, so when the press officer with the bad driving habits Maria (top model of the day Maria Kimberly in her only film) thinks her pet dog has been run over we feel sorry for her, but not so much that we cannot laugh at Hulot's bumbling efforts to show her that the pooch hasn't died after all. It's pleasingly daft, from the incidentals like the useless busts of historical figures given away to petrol station customers to the montage of drivers surreptiously picking their noses. Not the best of Hulot, but a sweet and charming and, yes, funny send-off for the classic character all the same. Music by Charles Dumont.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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