By Nazeeh Alghazawneh
Jacques Tati was quite the oddity for French cinema, especially for someone whose career began as early as the 1930s. Here comes a man standing at 6’3” who is creating absurd, French slapstick comedies in which he stars as a bumbling, gauche oaf who lumbers about society with as much subtlety as one can who is 6’3”. Yet he was an auteur, a man whose grasp of comedy functioned in this lovely space of purely good intentions despite his inherent tendencies to cause amok everywhere he set foot. One couldn’t possibly find a trace of malice anywhere in the droop of his large eyes that hang comfortably onto the prominence of his bulbous nose, which only furthers his overall demeanor through the wide-set stance of his incredibly long legs that can’t help but remind someone of those inflatable mascots outside of car dealerships.
Of course the man as a director and the man as an actor are two very different personalities, as one is who he actually is while the other is fictional; however, Tati’s decision to star in his own films as opposed to hiring someone else was a very bold artistic choice because nothing about the man’s physicality fit into the elegant sophistication that French society had based its identity on. It’s this stark juxtaposition of societal decorum subverted by benevolent incompetence in which Tati not only found and excelled at his humor, but absolutely reveled in. He constructed a world that allowed him to indulge in his many idiosyncrasies as a physical comedian and performer, while simultaneously poking fun just how seriously people at the time took themselves and their social hierarchies. It’s here that Tati’s most famous character, Monsieur Hulot, was born and forever ingrained into the bellies of anyone who laughed at the silly Frenchman.