Before this set arrived, I had not seen Jacques Tati’s final film, Parade (1974), and I was wary. There are those out there who think Tati’s penultimate film, Trafic, was a sad film for being a steep decline from all of Tati’s former works (ah, that’s my view here). Tati himself said that the last film he made would always be PlayTime, meaning it was the last film he felt was truly his. So what could I hope to expect from his last film, which, of all things, was produced for Swedish television? Well, Parade delivered much more than I’d hoped.
I do want to be clear up front that I do not think Parade is a great film. But by my personal estimation, with only six features to his name Tati made two exceptional films (Jour de fête and Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday) followed by two masterpieces (Mon Oncle, and PlayTime). That others consider his masterpieces to be Jour de fête and Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday shows just how great those four films are. And despite my misgivings about Trafic, Tati didn’t make a terrible film; Trafic was okay. I’m pleased by a good film, and Parade is just that.
In Parade Tati takes a trip his past when, in the 1930s, he performed pantomimes in music halls. Indeed, Parade is a filmed evening at the music hall, complete with footage of the audience waiting in line, taking their seats, of the performers putting together their acts (and even taking breaks), as well as of the acts themselves. Besides not expecting much given Tati’s own potentially dismissive comments, I came to Parade expecting to see a simple filmed performance, kind of like a televised Cirque du Soleil show, and that wasn’t too exciting. On the one hand, that is exactly what we get here; but on the other, Tati is mixing it up a bit, keeping us on our toes. Interspersed in these quasi-documentary segments are plenty of gags, and eventually the audience itself becomes part of the show as Tati uses a fun performance to also examine the nature of performance.
Tati himself plays the master of ceremonies, and he also gets quite a bit of stage time as one of the performers, going to his wheelhouse: pantomime. And how incredible to see this sexagenarian who is so agile, so limber, so graceful! It fits when he’s an angler, but he also plays a boxer, a tennis player, and a goalie. And he’s genuinely great — masterful — at using his body to tell these stories. For his performance alone this is a fun show to watch (unlike with Trafic, my kids rejoined me on the couch for this one).
Tati’s performance was the high point for me, but I also appreciated the gags I mentioned above. The audience gets in on the action, and the set (in a kind of whisper from PlayTime) is being worked on even while the show proceeds. But it’s not all up. The second half slows down substantially as the focus rests on performances that are much less interesting that Tati and that do not contain the formal shenanigans.
But, regardless of its ups and downs, after spending two weeks delving into the complete works of Jacques Tati, seeing the audience enter for a show, and seeing him deliver, made this a treat.
In contrast to Trafic, Parade has a surprising wealth of supplements, including one that is directly related to Parade (which didn’t happen with the Trafic disc. This supplement is another Stéphane Goudet visual essay called In the Ring. It runs 28 minutes and talks about Tati’s love of the circus and pantomime.
This is followed by my favorite supplement on any of the discs: In the Footsteps of Monsieur Hulot, a two-part documentary made by his daughter Sophie Tatischeff in 1989. In total, the two parts run for around 110 minutes and looks at the interesting relationship between Tati and his central character, whom, Tatischeff correctly states, we know better than we know Tati. It was a fantastic feature to wrap up this set. I’ve spent the past several weeks with Jacques Tati, and this supplement was a kind of culmination to the project.
That’s not to say the last supplement on the disc is worthless. It’s a pleasant 15-minute supplement called An Homage to Jacques Tati, a 1982 episode of the French television show Magazine. This is an interview with Jacques Lagrange, who worked with Tati frequently, and Lagrange talks about their collaborations and Tati himself, even going into Tati’s last project, Confusion, that he was unable to make before he died.
There’s still one more disc to talk about: Tati’s Shorts.