‘Trafic’ finds Mr. Hulot trying to navigate the roadways from Paris to Amsterdam

Hollywood Soapbox logoIt’s tough to enjoy Trafic, the 1971 Jacques Tati comedy that follows the always strange occurrences of Mr. Hulot (Tati himself). The character is a cross between Mr. Magoo and Mr. Bean, terribly out of sync with his society, pleasantly warm to most people and prone to accidents. In the early 1970s, such subtle comedy might have worked, but in 2013 the film feels too slight to register that many chuckles. Mr. Hulot’s comedic presence can only be stretched so far, and seeing him on the road between Paris and Amsterdam doesn’t exactly scream a road-trip laugh-fest.

Trafic features little dialogue, few memorable characters and a plot that meanders from beginning to end. The entire 97-minute affair is watchable, even if times it feels needlessly bland. Watching Hulot take his automobile to a car show and the many adventures he sees on the road can’t be classified as clever or interesting, but there is a wholesomeness to the comedy and a dedication to the physicality of the character that is attractive.

Tati is a performer in the tradition of the great French mimes. He uses his wardrobe and movements to convey the bewilderment of this central character. As director, he seems completely in control of the creation, as if he knows Hulot inside and out. And perhaps that’s why Trafic works on some basic level: The movie has nothing to do with the setting and all to do with the character. Mr. Bean and Mr. Magoo were funny no matter the scene they were populating. Funny characters have an intrinsic quality that makes them utterly watchable. Hulot is one of these characters, but the enjoyment level of Trafic is subdued. Although the character can be fun to watch (almost to the point where Hulot seems like a child in an adult zoo), without a compelling plot and motivation to tell a complete story, 97 minutes can grow tiresome in the company of one person.

There are some societal issues that are displayed in Trafic. Hulot seems to be a stand-in for the good old days when people were not in such a rush to travel from here to there. In the depicted culture of the 1970s, individualism seems almost forgotten, and everyone molds into one beeping, frenzied mob. Rudeness persists, and side characters are presented in bafflement at Hulot’s seemingly cross-cultural demeanor. He doesn’t fit into this society, as if he were a jigsaw puzzle piece just a little bit off. However, many of these themes are left unexplored.

Trafic is slight entertainment that will only amuse Tati purists. For most, the movie shows a clever character caught in the middle of nothing. The few important lessons to be learned could have been discovered in a far more engaging storyline.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Trafic

  • 1971

  • In French with English subtitles

  • Written and directed by Jacques Tati

  • Starring Tati, Marcel Fraval and Honoré Bostel

  • Running time: 97 minutes

  • Rated G

  • Rating: ★★☆☆

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

One thought on “‘Trafic’ finds Mr. Hulot trying to navigate the roadways from Paris to Amsterdam

  • September 19, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    I’m sorry I cannot agree with this review at all, I’m not a “Tati purist” but have noticed any Hollywood comedy review of a film that doesn’t have really obvious humor / visual-verbal gags will totally elude American audiences who tend to need pie-in-the-face type simplicity to see the funny side (Think American Pie). Tati is, in all his films, very quiet and subtle when poking fun. Hopefully you are also aware that the Hulot character was Rowan Atkinson’s inspiration for the Mr Bean Character. He was also an influence on most of the members of the Monty Python crew. Humor, like life, evolves. If subtlety isn’t your taste, perhaps you shouldn’t be reviewing these types of films?


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