Jacques Tati is a French filmmaker made famous internationally for his comedies. Although he only made eight films in forty years, he is regarded as one of the great French filmmakers, and his comedic influence is found far and wide. His success has mainly been posthumous, so much so that his films are still being produced today.
Born Jacques Tatischeff, in Le Pecq, Seine-et-Oise (now Yvelines), Tati was the son of a Dutch mother and Russian father. Tati’s father was of the Russian aristocracy, and he grew up privileged, well educated, and well off. The young Tati was talented at sports; through his physical ability to excel at multiple sports, as well as his comedic timing in the locker room, Tati soon found encouragement to take his act on stage.
Tati was incredibly successful as a stage performer, and he soon began filming his routines, distributing them as short films. But because of World War II, Tati was not able to make his first feature film until 1949. Called Jour de fête, Tati’s first full length film as both actor and director is a comedy about a postman who is duped by a fake film about US mail delivery techniques, and tries to compete by coming up with his own innovations using only his trusty bicycle.
The film won Tati the award for Best Director at the 1949 Venice Film Festival, and although it was released in black and white, the film was actually shot simultaneously in color (released in 1995).
Tati continued to act in his films as Mr. Hulot, a recurring character that appeared in five of Tati’s films: Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1953), My Uncle (1958), Evening Classes (1967), Playtime (1967), and Trafic (1971). The character became as internationally recognizable as Chaplin’s Tramp, unwittingly causing chaos and destruction wherever he went. Rowan Atkinson, the creator of Mr. Bean, has openly stated Tati’s influence on his own films.
Tati never found it easy to raise money for his films, and as his productions became more complicated, found that his audiences also began to wane. His critics began to compare his perfectionism to megalomania, and by the time Playtime was released, his fans had lost interest in him. Unfortunately, Tati has sunk everything he had into Playtime, and its failure ruined him financially.
Although Tati was awarded a César d’honneur in 1977, leading to renewed interest in his work, he passed away in 1983 before he could shoot his final project, Confusion. His script, The Illusionist, is to be released in 2009, by the same filmmakers who made The Triplets of Belleville.