Posted by martinteller on July 22, 2012
From the clips I’d seen, I expected this to be a one-man show. But as in M. Hulot’s Holiday, it’s a very democratic movie, with Tati only a small part of an entire circus. Besides Tati’s pantomimes, we see magic, acrobatics, juggling, animal acts and music… often at the same time, and all of it spiced with comedy. Often the cast is preparing the set as the show goes on around them, we get peeks at the backstage antics, and even the audience gets in on the act. Many of them are obviously plants — in fact, they might all be plants — but everyone seems to be having a grand old time.
It’s a tribute not just to circuses (essentially an extinct species, unless you count Cirque du Soleil… who I happen to enjoy) but to the old music hall/vaudeville tradition. Tati is quite an old-timer by this point, and still reeling from the financial disaster of his masterful Playtime. But his physicality is as limber as ever. Maybe there’s something a bit too hokey about watching him do pantomime versions of boxers and tennis players and show horses on a stage, but you gotta admit he’s pretty damn good at it.
There are some negatives. A number of the gags fell quite flat with me, both the mule routine and the orchestra portion eventually wear out their welcomes, and the rock band is not only painfully dated but completely incongruous with the rest of the film. Nonetheless, it’s a very charming experience, especially after the rather disappointing Trafic. It’s playful and funny and sometimes downright bizarre. The set design and costumes are really funky. The photography (with the great Gunnar Fischer on hand) is primarily functional, capturing the action without much flair, but for a performance film that’s pretty much what you want. I would have preferred something approaching the greatness of Playtime as Tati’s swan song, but this will do. Rating: Good (71)