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Made after his masterpiece 'Playtime', 'Trafic' (1971) is usually regarded as a lesser Tati. This still means classic and inimitable comedy, but besides the film is a fascinating document of the troubled (and ultimately failed) collaboration between two masters of visual comedy, Jacques Tati and Bert Haanstra.

After 'Playtime' had financially ruined Tati, his next project needed foreign partners. Tati and Haanstra already knew each other - Haanstra's 'Zoo' had been screened alongside Tati's 'Jour de Fête' - and they decided to co-produce and co-direct 'Trafic'. Not surprisingly, this case of two captains on one ship - and large-egoed ones at that - was doomed to fail, and after initial shooting Haanstra left the project.

The final film, however, still clearly shows Haanstra's contribution, creating a unique blend of Tati's dramatic and Haanstra's documentary visual humor.

Trafic - 1

'Trafic' picks up exactly where 'Playtime' left off: with automobiles. This time Monsieur Hulot is involved in transporting a camping car from Paris to an auto show at the RAI in Amsterdam. The camping car is at least as cleverly designed as the futuristic house in 'Mon Oncle', but transported on an old lorry and accompanied by M. Hulot, it will take most of the film and endless breakdowns and chaos along the way for it to reach Amsterdam.

After the increasingly abstracted world inhabited by M. Hulot, culminating in the unrecognizable glass and steel Paris of 'Playtime', 'Trafic' takes place in a much more realistic and less stylized world - probably due partly to Haanstra's influence and partly to budget restraints. Much of the story takes place on the road between Paris and Amsterdam, in garages en route and around the RAI, while in Amsterdam there are even glimpses of hippie culture.

Trafic - 2

The film is at its best satirizing the epidemic car culture which in the early '70s was already causing choked roads and chagrined drivers. Here Haanstra's contribution shows in a documentary sequence of car driver behavior - a kind of 'Zoo' in a traffic jam. Another highlight contributed by Haanstra is an early scene in the RAI, with the show's organizers walking around in the empty exhibition hall stepping over invisible wires.

For Tati, of course, making fun of cars was part of a broader critique of modern civilization, which replaced organic life with clinical, mechanical organization, or in Ellul's term, with technique. Here 'Trafic' falls somewhat short - especially compared to 'Playtime' - despite its title, which in French refers primarily not to traffic but to the exchange of goods.

Trafic - 3

Perhaps the film articulates this overarching theme best in its parody of the emerging self-importance of public relations, with a hasty, over-efficient American PR lady causing much of the havoc on the road, before letting her hair down and accepting the organic chaos of M. Hulot's world.

In Tati's ultimately melancholic conclusion of human relations becoming increasingly mechanized, this is his optimistic note: at least one PR soul has been saved.

For Dutch speakers, the Tati-Haanstra collaboration is recounted in detail in this chapter from a Haanstra biography.

And here's a great collection of 'Trafic' posters.



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