A distillation not of Jacques Tati per se, but of communal spectacle and creation -- cinema. The circus is the setting, abstracted into blank spotlights but with the audience always present, always as much a part of the show as the jugglers, acrobats, contortionists, drummers, and assorted pratfall artisans. At the center is Tati, silver-haired in a turtleneck, miming taking punches in the ring, riding a horse, directing traffic, swinging a tennis racket in slow-mo. Playtime and Traffic exhausted the French producers, so the auteur staged his swansong as a Swedish TV-special, a casual affair, a slender recording of dance-hall whimsy and a profound summarization of a man's life and art. There are card tricks and sight gags about asscracks, the hat-check woman scrambles to find room for the many motorcycle helmets; Au Hasard Balthazar is lovingly remembered, a hockey team is benched behind a string quartet that works mainly with horns and hammers. The magical instrument on display remains the human body in full view, Tati's and the performers' and the audiences', the camera always keeping the master of ceremonies and his creations at the same distance -- Tati enjoys an active viewer, the little boy caught dozing by the aisle later provides the capper to the helium-balloon ballad. The human shape vanished amid Playtime's modern landscape is rediscovered at the circus, with renewed hope in art (psychedelic rock is as valid a form of expression here as classical violins, yodeling, flamenco ondulations, and Edith Piafing). Much closer to Numéro Deux than to Fellini's I Clowns, for Tati shares Godard's sense of the death and rebirth of film, taking a final bow and leaving the medium in the hands of the young. Cinematography by Gunnar Fischer and Jean Badal.
--- Fernando F. Croce