Over the course of four shorts and six features, all of which are screening as part of this retrospective, Tati honed a style that married daring formal innovation with gentle satire and abundant gags. The vessel for his offbeat humour is his on-screen avatar Monsieur Hulot, a pipe-smoking, hat-wearing, largely mute gentleman who bumbles through a string of misadventures in a permanent state of cheery insouciance. One minute, he’s fashioning a tennis cap out of a newspaper; the next, he’s capsizing his kayak.
If Hulot’s awkward manners and outdated tastes give him comic appeal, they also make him the perfect counterpoint to the pretentious bourgeoisie and hollow modern fads that surround him. Whether sending up postwar Paris’s conceited chattering classes in Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (a direct influence on Mr. Bean’s Holiday) or conjuring up a surreal parody of Le Corbusier’s architecture in Mon Oncle, Tati never missed a chance to point out the absurdities of contemporary life. But he also saw in modern fashions a template for his own visual experiments. This is most evident in Playtime, a freewheeling triumph of staging in which a caricature of the postwar city becomes a playground for his cast.
|What||Jacques Tati at the BFI|
|Where||BFI Southbank, Belvedere Road, Southbank, London, SE1 8XT | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
20 Oct 14 – 13 Nov 14, Various
|Website||Book via BFI website.|