Trafic (Jacques Tati / France-Italy, 1971):

Reassuringly, humanity still picks its collective nose in the Auto Age. The two poles are the Parisian car company where Jacques Tatiís Monsieur Hulot works as a designer, and the cavernous expo in Amsterdam where his latest vehicle is to be unveiled -- in between them lies the world, as well as Smithsonís "straight line not in Nature." Hulotís invention shows "a little French ingenuity," a station wagon camper with built-in tent, barbecue grill, and shower stall ("start the engine for hot water"); a truck driver (Marcel Fraval) accompanies him across the procession of pit stops and gridlocks, the American PR agent of a thousand outfits (Maria Kimberly) gets stuck with them in a Dutch police station but benefits greatly from the impromptu holiday. Playtime broke the bank while transforming the medium, so Tati found himself scrambling to recoup with a quick, cheaper project -- "minor" was all the critics could come up with, though this is a director making tentative amends with technology, putting the camera closer to catch the boat that sails by, Renoir-style, in the background during a picnic. Nature is a forest of cardboard cutouts, classicism is a plaster bust given away at the gas station, the cries and murmurs of motors rule the macaronic sound design. And yet, a highway pileup is an opportunity for people to step out into the open, stretch and interact, and, if humans are getting mechanized, so are machines getting humanized (vide the car limping and whimpering as itís towed to a garage). Tati the gag-meister (the vendorís bandaged finger, the afghan coatís wagging tail), Tati the teacher (factory fidgeting for Tout Va Bien, metallic exoskeletons for Humain, Trop Humain). A French trucker and a Dutch mechanic using mime to turn a garage floor into a lunar surface is a sublime moment, and one that points toward Tatiís restoration of the human body as the ultimate tool of expression in Parade. With Honorť Bostel, FranÁois Maisongrosse, and Tony Knepper.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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