Jour de fete (The Village Fair)

Director: Jacques Tati

France| 1949. Colour version. English subtitles. 76 mins

Tati’s first feature is a totally unpretentious little film, bursting with joie de vivre and clearly establishing many of the filmmaker’s thematic and stylistic traits. The film is firmly set in a real village that’s a microcosm of the Old World and its values. Yet this world is already under threat as the picture begins with the annual fair coming to town. The fair only stays for a day and in itself hardly represents the technology of the New World. However, it does bring a powerful image of the New World-essentially defined as American-and its mechanised efficiency through the documentary (shown in the fair’s mobile cinema) about high-tech postal methods. Much of the film’s comedy-particularly that of the brilliantly timed climactic sequence-derives from the attempts of the humiliated village postman, François (Tati), to live up to this image of his American counterparts.
Like most of Tati’s work, Jour de fête is concerned with the (often comic) relation between image and viewpoint. The comedy is often developed through an interplay of foreground and background action. A good example of this is provided in the justly celebrated scene in which a bee-its presence indicated only by a sound effect-chases François (background), whose wild movements are noticed by an uncomprehending farmer (foreground), who, like the audience, cannot see the bee. Tati is fascinated by the comic potential in the difference between appearance and reality.
Plus L’ecole des facteurs/The School for Postmen. Tati’s first directorial outing is a fascinating dress rehearsal for Jour de fête. (1936. Black and white. 16mm. 18 mins.)

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