In celebration of Bastille Day, the American Cinematheque treats Los Angeles audiences to a double dose of comedic genius from beloved French filmmaker Jacques Tati. Tonight’s screening, which takes place at Santa Monica’s Aero Theatre, offers an ideal introduction to the director’s elegantly anarchic style with a pairing of his first two feature films. Set on Bastille Day in a sleepy French village, Tati’s 1949 directorial debut, Jour de fête (The Big Day), follows the misadventures of a chatty postman who tries to adopt new delivery methods to increase his speed and accuracy. In what would become his signature style, Tati deploys a variety of sight gags and sound effects that whimsically lampoon the modern-day obsession with efficiency.
Screening in 35 mm, Tati’s international breakthrough, M. Hulot’s Holiday, introduced audiences to his iconic title character, a gangly, pipe-smoking buffoon whose hilariously clumsy navigation of a seaside resort town echoes the slapstick of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Unfolding in a series of meticulously choreographed set pieces, including Hulot’s famously disastrous round of tennis, this classic confronts the chaos of the modern world with a mixture of bafflement, good cheer, and what Jean-Luc Godard later called Tati’s “feeling for strangeness.”
Viewers in Los Angeles can see this double feature tonight. In the meantime, read David Cairns on Tati’s ingenious use of gags.