WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Monsieur Hulot, the character of Tati’s other films, but also an independently lovable naive clumsoid, is working as a designer for a car manufacturer. When the company head for the auto expo in Amsterdam, Hulot and his colleagues set out to dazzle the viewers with a glimpse of the future of automobiles. But making it to Amsterdam might prove a bit challenging because the frustrations of transportation are also a large part of this bright future.
WHO MADE IT: Jacques Tati was the master of films about contemporary anxieties, and the way modernity and modernization shape all facets of life. His films are now half a century old, and the future they predicted is what we’re living now, which makes these hilarious, carefully conceived films perfect time-capsules. “Traffic” is usually considered Tati’s minor work, but it holds up pretty well and makes for some tremendous viewing in the advent of self-driving cars and all the Tesla fires.
WHY DO WE CARE: It’s essential viewing in a time when we rethink the drastic measures that Robert F. Moses and other automobile evangelists took to make cities, American and not, so dependant on cars. France, Italy and the Netherlands, the three countries at the center of the film, are not as affected as the “New World’ capitals of smog and melting asphalt. Neither are they as well known for their roads, as Germany is for their Autobahn. But the change brought on by the urbanization made possible by vehicular connections is reverberating through the hamlets and villages everywhere. And even though there was not much of an ecological frame to the subject in Tati’s time, it’s not hard to draw the connections between the application of human innovation and climate change.
WHY YOU NEED TO WATCH: There is a very particular pleasure to be derived from watching Tati’s films: like little treasure boxes, they reveal their many splendors one at a time, each carefully wrapped with a joke, and a piercing truth about contemporary life. As the viewing progresses, the puzzle is arranged. And much like in the paintings of Breughel and Bosch, or the Iliad, a full picture, of staggering depth and meaning finally emerges from the pieces. “Traffic” unwraps just as curiously as Tati’s other films, but it also has an inimitable mix of the advanced technologies and village life that so pointedly get to his central thesis: modern life is hell, but it sure is entertaining.
Traffic (Trafic), 1971
Director: Jacques Tati
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