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Jacques Tati (born Jacques Tatischeff, 9 October 1907, Le Pecqmarker, Yvelinesmarker – 5 November 1982, Parismarker) was a Frenchmarker filmmaker working both as a comedic actor and director.

In a poll conducted by Entertainment Weekly of the Greatest Movie Directors Tati was voted the 46th of all time. With only six feature-length films to his credit as director, he directed fewer films than any other director on this list of 50.


Statue of Jacques Tati (as M.
Hulot) in Saint Nazaire
Tati was the son of Russian father Georges-Emmanuel Tatischeff and Dutch mother Marcelle Claire Van Hoof. The Tatischeffs (also spelled Tatishchev) are a Russian noble family of Rurikid descent; Tati's paternal grandfather, count Dimitriy Tatishchev (Дмитрий Татищев), was a Russian general and military attaché at the Russian embassy in Parismarker. After a career as a professional rugby player, Tati found success as a mime in French music halls. In the late 1930s Tati shot some of his early supporting cameos on film with some success and thus began his career as a filmmaker. One of his short films, L'École Des Facteurs (The School for Postmen) provided material for his first feature, Jour de fête. His films have little audible dialogue, but instead are built around elaborate, tightly-choreographed visual gags and carefully integrated sound effects.

In all but his very last film, Tati plays the lead character, who - with the exception of his first and last films - is the gauche and socially inept Monsieur Hulot. With his trademark raincoat, umbrella and pipe, Hulot is among the most memorable comic characters in cinema. There exist several recurrent themes in Tati's comedic work, most notably in Mon Oncle, Playtime and Trafic. They include Western society's obsession with material goods, particularly American-style consumerism, the pressure-cooker environment of modern society, the superficiality of relationships among France's various social classes, and the cold and often impractical nature of space-age technology and design.

Tati's first major feature, Jour de fête (The Big Day), tells the story of an inept rural village postman who interrupts his duties to inspect the traveling fair that has come to town. Influenced by too much wine and a documentary on the rapidity of the American postal service, he goes to hilarious lengths to speed his mail deliveries aboard his bicycle. Tati filmed it in 1947 in the village where he found refuge from Nazi recruiters during the German occupation. Released in 1949, the film was intended to be the first French feature film shot in color; Tati simultaneously shot the film in black-and-white as an insurance policy. The newly developed Thomson color system proved impractical, as it could not deliver color prints; Jour de fête was therefore released only in black-and-white. Unlike his later films, it has many scenes with dialogue and offers a droll, affectionate view of life in rural France. The color version was restored by his daughter, Sophia Tatischeff, and released in 1995. The film won a prize at the Venice Film Festival.

His second film, Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (Mr. Hulot's Holiday), was released in 1953. Les Vacances introduced the character of M. Hulot and follows his adventures in France during the mandatory August vacation at a beach resort, lampooning several hidebound elements of French political and social classes along the way. The film was widely praised by critics, and earned Tati an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay which was shared with Henri Marquet.

Tati's next film, Mon Oncle (My Uncle) 1958, was his first film to be released in color and perhaps his best-known work. The plot centers on M. Hulot's comedic, quixotic and childlike struggle with postwar France's mindless obsession with modernity and American-style consumerism. Mon Oncle quickly became an international success, and won that year's Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (Oscar), a Special Prize at Cannesmarker, as well as the prestigious New York Film Critics Award.

Playtime (1967), shot in 70mm, was the most daring and expensive work of Tati's career; it took him nine years to complete and he was forced to borrow heavily from his own resources to complete the picture. For Playtime, Tati fabricated a set (dubbed 'Tativille') on the outskirts of Paris that emulated an entire modern city. In the film, Tati and a group of American tourists lose themselves in the futuristic glass-and-steel of the Parisian suburbs, where only human nature and a few views of the city of Paris itself still emerge to breathe life into the city. Playtime had even less of a plot than his earlier films, and Tati endeavored to make his characters, including Hulot, almost incidental to his portrayal of a modernist and robotic Paris.

While on the set of Playtime, Tati made a short film about his comedic and cinematic technique, Cours du Soir (1967). In the film, Jacques Tati gives a lesson in the art of comedy to a class of would-be actors.

Playtime was originally 155 minutes in length, but Tati soon released an edited version of 126 minutes, and this is the version that became a general theatre release in 1967. Later versions appeared in 35mm format. In 1979, a copy of the film was revised again to 108 minutes, and this re-edited version was released on VHS video in 1984. Though Playtime was a critical success (François Truffaut praised it as "a film that comes from another planet, where they make films differently"), it was a massive and expensive commercial failure, eventually resulting in the film-maker's bankruptcy.

After Playtime, Tati made two more films, with far more modest budgets. The first, Trafic (Traffic), was released in 1971. It was the last Hulot film, and followed the vein of earlier works that lampooned modern society. In the film, Hulot is a bumbling automobile inventor travelling to an exhibition in a gadget-filled recreational vehicle. Despite its modest budget, Trafic was still very much a Tati film, carefully staged and choreographed in its scenes and effects. Tati's last completed film, Parade, a film produced for Swedish television, is more or less a filmed circus performance featuring Tati's mime acts and other performers. In 1978, Tati began filming a short documentary on a French (Corsicanmarker) soccer team playing the UEFA Cup final, 'Forza Bastia', which he did not complete. His daughter later edited the remaining footage which was released in 2002.

Tati had plans for at least one more film. Confusion was a story about a futuristic city (Paris) where activity is centred around television, communication, advertising, and modern society's infatuation with visual imagery. Not intended as a comedy, in the original script an ageing M. Hulot was slated to be accidentally killed on-air. While the script is still in existence, Confusion was never filmed.

An animated film titled The Illusionist, based on an unproduced Tati script that he had written in 1956 as a personal letter to his estranged eldest daughter, Helga Marie-Jeanne Schiel, is currently in production and expected to be released in 2009. Sylvain Chomet, also known for The Triplets of Belleville, is the director and the main character is expected to be an animated version of Tati himself. It is estimated to cost around £10 million and is being funded by Pathé Pictures. The Illusionist is a script Tati wrote in collaboration with screenwriter Henri Marquet between Mon Oncle and Playtime.

In 2007 a short film depicting Tati as a schoolboy was released entitled Open the Door, Please written and directed by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige and meant as a sort of homage to Tati.

Today the only living family of Jacques Tati live in England.






  • Academy Awards 1958: Best foreign movie for Mon Oncle
  • Cannes festival 1958: Grand prix for Mon Oncle


  1. [ Imdb biography page

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