(Dir Jacques Tati, 1949, colourised, French with sub-titles)
What a hoot! If you love Mr Bean, Frank Spencer or Charlie Chaplin, then this may be your sort of movie. Even if it is complete nonsense from start to finish, there is sometimes a need for nonsense. The title refers to the fact that it is the day of the fair in a little French village. The film opens by having us follow this cart, being towed by one of those little old Farmall tractors with the two front wheels together and pointing slightly inwards - there are five wooden horses leering over the back of the cart and scaring the local animals. This is the ferry-go-round and movie house arriving for the fair.
But the star of the film is Jacques Tati himself, playing the central character Francois, the local mailman on his bike. (As an aside, now that I've seen this movie, I suspect that the mailman in A Very Long Engagement is a homage to Tati.) He's not a very good mailman, as he is far too easily distracted - by the pub, by the fellows he knows around the place, by the needs of the community for something other than a mailman. So, fairly early in the piece, he is co-opted to direct a bunch of workmen in putting up the flag-pole - because he's so "orgainsed" and in control. Of course, he's not that great, and takes a huge number of whacks on the head in increasingly strange ways. This and the alcohol he consumes in drinking games he feels he must win (his competitors slow him down a bit by swapping whatever he had been drinking, maybe wine, for cognac) lead to his increasing wobbliness and incoherence - for the entire centre part of the movie, this is best expressed by simply not giving sub-titles for anything he said. Among the many funny scenes, one that stands out is when he's delivering a telegram - when he finally works out that it requires urgent delivery, he gets to where it is supposed to be but as he makes his introductory bow, the old lady's goat snatches the telegram from between his legs. Its that sort of movie.
One other character deserves a special mention - a bee, whcih occupies a certain part of the road - we learn to recognise that whenever someone goes through that part, they'll be attacked by it.
But things change for Francois when he watches a documentary film about the greatness of the American mailman, where its all about efficiency, regularity and rapidity. There, they have helicopters to deliver the mail or, out in the big country, mailmen hang below aeroplanes to do their work. This inspires our Francois to adopt the principle of rapidity - he never stops to talk, in fact he never even stops to deliver the mail, but instead slaps it on whatever surface that presents itself (such as a bald head). There's this great scene where he has hooked his handlebars to the back of a truck, so that he can be sped up, and is using the tailgate of the truck (which is laying flat) as his mail sorting office - maximum efficiency, don't you know, that's what its all about.
But, nothing can last for ever and within about 24 hours, Francois is back to his old habits - he stops delivering mail to help some haymakers and is then off to the pub.