April in Tativille
Some of you might have seen the news item on our website regarding the Jacques Tati “centennial-plus” and the exhibits around Paris paying homage to the inventive filmmaker. I had the good fortune to be in the City of Lights on official Criterion business last week and made a couple of excursions to check it all out.
The first was to Le104, an impressive art space in the nineteenth arrondissement, a district I seldom go to. I took the metro there and got off one station too early by mistake, which made for a lovely walk through this ethnically diverse neighborhood. Nothing could have prepared me for Le104’s massiveness, much less for the re-creation of Tati’s Villa Arpels from Mon oncle. It was much more impressive than I had imagined: the squares of colorful gravel seemingly splashing off the sides of the modern white villa as the fish-sculpture centerpiece spouted water just like in the film. I stood there awestruck for a while, seeing this amazing ahead-of-its-time invention life-size before me, and then walked around it. You weren’t allowed to go in, but the many windows let you see that every little detail of the interior had been meticulously reproduced, from the (post)modern appliances in the kitchen to the seemingly uncomfortable furniture of the living room.
Little hints of Monsieur Hulot were spread out incongruously throughout the decor: his vélomoteur sitting in the driveway facing the big old American car in the garage; his pipe (around which there is now quite a controversy brewing in the French news) on the garden table, amid fancy plastic drinking glasses; his umbrella and hat planted in a bush along the path. It was an awesome sight, to say the least, and watching the video of how it was built (which you can find on YouTube) was pretty great too.
Also pretty great was the Tati exhibit at the Cinémathèque française, which I attended the next day, after a meeting there. The expo is on the fifth floor of the Cinémathèque’s Frank Gehry building (especially appropriate for this show), and starts in the elevator with the same diagram that appears in the elevator in Playtime. Once there, you walk down a long, narrow corridor plastered with international posters for Tati’s films, at the end of which sits the giant, incomprehensible intercom the doorman struggles with in Playtime. At that point, I walked into a glassed-in waiting room (Playtime again), which houses the same props as in the film. Then the exhibit starts. There is too much to tell, but it was great to see one of the cubicles from Playtime and peek inside. You could also climb a set of stairs to overlook the cubicle, just like Tati in the film. I snuck a few illicit iPhone photos before getting nabbed by the security guard. (It must have been fate that my phone crashed the same day and I lost the pictures.)
A walk down another, less claustrophobic corridor, with drawings and photos of the buildings that influenced the Villa Arpels, and I was in Hulot’s holiday, featuring the beach booth, in which a series of Tatischeff family photos, dating back to the nineteenth century, are on display, as well as a short video of clips from an animated film Tati wanted to make but that never saw the light of day, and all of Tati’s hats from the various films. I felt like a kid in a sandbox, walking around the playful exhibit.
But my trip wasn’t all Tati. It also included interviewing Raoul Coutard, who kindly helped us set up the shot after a series of mishaps installing the camera and lighting. The next day, I took him to the lab for some color correcting, and then drove back to Paris to interview Chantal Akerman, an amazingly open and intense woman, with whom I shared a friendly beer at a café in Ménilmontant afterward. On my last day, I had lunch with François Thomas, who has been helping us with the Last Year at Marienbad release. We were having dessert when Alain Resnais walked into the restaurant. We chatted for a good three-quarters of an hour, and I was absolutely charmed. What a great trip!