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Traffic

Director: Jacques Tati

France| 1970. Colour. 96 mins.


An idiosyncratic film by any standard, Traffic is Tati’s satire on the absurdities and dangers of our dependence on the motorcar. It is a highly digressive work that de-emphasises narrative, farcical gags and even Hulot himself in favour of observational humour. It’s style ranges from the documentary (the candid shots of bored drivers yawning and picking their noses) to the near abstract (the montage of visual patterns formed by white road lines and their reflections, synchronised to a jazz score).
Hulot’s disastrous trip from Paris to the Amsterdam motor show (where he is supposed to display a camping vehicle) is ironically contrasted with the successful parallel journey (over the same period) by American astronauts from earth to the moon. But Tati also uses this journey-glimpsed on television screens at various points in the film-to underline our obsession with technology. There is, for instance, a scene in which two people lie like astronauts in one piece of technology (the camping vehicle), watching a second piece (the television) which shows them still more (the complex operation of landing on the moon). There is no place for Nature in this new technological world. At the end of the film, pedestrians are forced to walk in geometrical lines between rows of jammed cars. But, Tati implies, it is only by becoming a pedestrian (as Hulot does), thus symbolically abandoning technology, that we can begin to recover the warm human values of the Old World and Nature.

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