Jour de fete
Jacques Tati’s first feature, a euphoric comedy set in a sleepy village, was meant to be the first French feature in color; it was shot in 1947 using two cameras, one color and one black-and-white. But the new Thomson-Color process failed to yield results that could be printed, so in 1949 the film was released in black and white. Fifteen years later Tati released a recut version in which a few details were colored by means of stencils, the version generally available ever since–at least until Tati’s daughter Sophie, a professional film editor, and film technician Francois Ede decided to restore the original color in 1994. Their meticulous work took well over a year, and what emerges is truly precious: a color print that looks not like the films of 1947 but like 1947 itself. As in all of Tati’s features, the plot is minimal: during Bastille Day festivities, Francois (Tati), the local postman, encounters a newsreel about streamlined postal delivery in America and attempts to clean up his act accordingly. But the exquisite charm of this masterpiece has less to do with individual gags (funny though many of them are) than with Tati’s portrait of a highly interactive French village after the war–a view of paradise suffused with affection and poetry. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, January 23 through 29. –Jonathan Rosenbaum
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.