Jacques Tati’s cinematic legacy rests on his four sublime comedies featuring Monsieur Hulot, his on-screen alter ego, a gawky, good-hearted Frenchman hopelessly befuddled by the modern world that’s sprung up around him. But no less than such masterpieces as Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday and PlayTime, the two films made by Tati in which Hulot does not appear—Jour de fête and Parade, his first and last features—attest to the formal ingenuity and comic dexterity of the famously exacting actor-director. In the new episode of the Criterion Channel’s monthly series Observations on Film Art, scholar Kristin Thompson turns her attention to the made-for-television Parade, often overlooked in the context of Tati’s work since the 1974 film seems to eschew the meticulously constructed fictional worlds that had by then become his signature. But as Thompson establishes in the clip above, a closer look at the movie—which purports to be a documentary record of a live variety-show performance emceed by the star—quickly reveals that it’s anything but an outlier in Tati’s filmography, its delightfully sly mix of audience participation and onstage spectacle recalling the entropic yet highly choreographed social satire of the Hulot series.
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Italian cinema of the 1940s and ’50s may be most associated with the legacy of neorealism, but the tearjerking melodramas of this critically underappreciated director dominated at the box office.