Thursday, 3 November 2016



Well, it's November: Halloween and the season of horror is now over so maybe it's time to leave the zombies and vampires and axe-wielding psychopaths to one side and Watch Something Else. There are countless other genres out there: emotional dramas, political polemics, historical costume epics, vintage French slapstick - yeah, a bit of bumbling Hulot will do quite nicely for an evening. What could possibly go wrong, except everything?

First off: it is officially Trafic rather than Traffic (though the English subs give the latter in the opening titles), which at least makes it easier to tell it apart from the rather good Michael Douglas drugs thriller. It's not as funny as Soderbergh's Traffic, and that's a film which was scarcely a barrel of hilarity to start with. Even allowing for my natural tin eye for visual comedy AND the eternal Anglo-French cultural differences AND the post-Brexit climate in which we're patriotically obliged to hate everything from Johnny Euro on principle, Jacques Tati's uncategorisable comedic blank of a film is as short on laughs, humour, any shred of interest, any damn thing at all, as it's physically possible to be without actually ceasing to exist entirely.

You would think that a film in which a small group of people have to do nothing more than drive from A to B - a car firm transporting its revolutionary new Camper Car, designed by M Hulot himself (Tati), from the Paris factory to the Amsterdam Auto Show - would have room within that skeletal framework to drop a few jokes in somewhere. The film's vein of wry social observation peaks with the discovery that drivers tend to pick their noses while sitting in gridlock (well, at least if you film enough people and then edit together all the bogeymining shots). Spiralling chaos is limited to a dumb motorway pile-up which at that point feels completely out of place, and it runs under the DVD menu anyway so you've already seen most of it.

Whatever the hell it is, it's certainly not a comedy. If anything it's an anti-comedy: it spends most of the time setting up elaborate scenes of slapstick chaos and then deliberately refusing to trigger them. Surely there's a payoff with the lump of meat that falls into the engine compartment? Surely there's a payoff with all the string markers left over the exhibition hall floor? Surely there's a payoff with the hitchhiker and the petrol can? Surely there's a payoff with the wedding party inexplicably stuck in the police station? By the time Hulot had pulled down some trellis for absolutely no reason and then climbed a tree to try and pull it back up, I was actively wondering whether to finish the course or just take the Blu out and abandon the evening entirely.

At the risk of sounding like a pseudo-intellectual Cahiers Du Cinema-wielding twerp in a beret and a well-stroked goatee for a moment: I ended up wondering whether the ghost of Jean-Luc's tedious Weekend might be lurking somewhere in the background. It's got at least as many traffic jams as Weekend, and it's no funnier, though at least it doesn't have endless scenes of to-camera hectoring about the evils of capitalism and the decadence of the West, and Trafic only degenerates into mere pointless tedium rather than the outright gibberish of Godard's film. A peculiar enterprise: it does absolutely nothing, and contains no laughs, which was presumably the point - but why the hell would it be? Absolutely hated it like it was the worst Top Gear ever. Enough with this trying out of previously unexplored genres, let's get back to the zombies and mad axe murderers.


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