The Americans are to blame for everything. Curse their self-proclaimed efficiency! Thus François, the village postman in Sainte-Sévère-sur-Inde, is mocked on the basis of a self-promotional film showing the U.S. postal service as impossibly, ridiculously advanced. Poor François, a clumsy anachronism on his rickety bicycle, does his best the next day to compete with what he, drunk, saw in that film. He works fast at delivering the mail, at one point lowering a piece of it down somebody’s well, at another point leaving another piece with the horse that a blacksmith is busy shoeing. Life, which appears to be a series of intricate traps, keeps obstructing François and slowing him down.
Jacques Tati, who also directed, plays François, who is constantly skirmishing with his natural and provincial environments. In this, his first feature-length film, he modestly suggests what will become his signature character: Monsieur Hulot. There’s a stunning contrast in Jour de fête between its colors and the black and white of the U.S. postal service film-within-the-film—a contrast which was lost when, unable to process Tati’s experimental color shooting, the studio released instead the black-and-white version that Tati shot simultaneously as backup.
Among the actual villagers who are seamlessly integrated into the film’s action is an elderly woman. François’s marathon of attempted efficiency lasts but a day, its fleeting nature keyed to the visit to town of a carnival. At the outset, celebrating the carnival’s arrival, a little boy chases the truck bringing in the fake horses for the carousel. At the end, the same shot signals the carnival’s departure until next year. Life’s normal round will poignantly reassert itself within the context of life’s transience about which the child as yet knows nothing—one of cinema’s most haunting instances of dramatic irony.
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