logo logo

Jacques Tati

Jacques Tati of France was a 20th century athlete, actor and film director known for his character Monsieur Hulot and his innovative storytelling style.

Background

  • Ethnicity: Jacques Tati was of Russian, Dutch, and Italian ancestry.

  • Born on October 9, 1908, in Le Pecq, France, Jacques Tati played rugby and performed live before turning to film.

  • Education

    • He left school in 1923 at the age of 16 to take up an apprenticeship in the family business, where he was trained as a picture framer by his grandfather. Between 1927 and 1928 he completed his military national service at Saint-Germain-en-Laye with the Cavalry's 16th Regiment of Dragoons. Upon graduating the military he took on an internship in London where he was first introduced to the sport of rugby. Returning to Paris, he joined the semi-professional rugby team Racing Club de France, whose captain was Alfred Sauvy and whose supporters included Tristan Bernard. It was at the Racing Club de France that Jacques Tatischeff first discovered his comic talents, entertaining his teammates during intervals with hilarious impersonations of their sporting endeavours. He also first met Jacques Broido, and they would become lifelong friends.

    Career

    • Tati was a deliberate exponent of austere charm who insisted on subjects of considerable public significance. His elaborate talent for refined visual comedy was expressed with the consistency and neatness of a great miniaturist. But the delieacvof line and mime was always vulgarized by a humorless preoccupation with such issues as the aridity of modern urban life. Tati’s theme was that personality is being warped by the unfeeling organization of our times. But his art so relied on detached, graceful view's of mime that he omitted individuality. Hulot is, in outline, very close to Buster Keaton a romantic bewildered by the vagaries of the world but whereas Buster has a passive human strength, Tati made Hulot a remote creature, a shape in the landscape. The comedy seemed increasingly an inconsequential attempt at avoiding the harshness that Tati recognized in the world. Just as he never let a shot go by that was not formally balanced and tasteful, so he evaded the real nature of the destructiveness he loathed. It is not enough for comedy to be socially moralizing; it must deal with personal anguish and still make us laugh.

      Tati came from a Russian family. As a young man he played rugby, and when he went into music hall and cabaret as a mime comedian he specialized in studies of sporting activity. This led to his first film, as writer and actor, Oscar, Champion de Tennis. During the 1930s, he appeared in several other shorts: On Demande une Bmte (Charles Barrois); Gai Dimanche (Jacques Berr); Soigne ton Gauche (René Clément); and Retour à la Terre. After the war he had small parts in Sylvie et le Fantôme (Claude Autant-Lara) and Le Diable au Corps (Autant-Lara). But thereafter, he began his angular and rather haughty independence as writer, director, and actor on his own projects. L'Ecole des Facteurs became a tryout for his first feature, a rough-and-ready rural story centering on the village postman. It allowed Tati several virtuoso set pieces, the balletic meticulousness of which made an unsettling contrast with the technical shortcomings of the photography. The lovingly recreated rural setting was very much in keeping with the ideals of Tati's absentminded hero, but the presence of the postman permitted him to contrast the rural operator and the obtusely progressive methods of the urban service, as shown in a documentary projected in the village.

      His next film introduced the character of M. Hulot in a provincial seaside resort. The bourgeois on the beach was well suited to Tati's gentle but penetrating eye for our absurdities. Once more, he stresses visual comedy in preference to sound, and organizes several long, complex, but delicious constructed gags. If only because the balance of personality and style was best preserved in this first presentation of Hulot, Les Vacances deserved its great international success.

      After that, however, Hulot moved into the city so that his mournful fevness could show up the brutality of progress. The point was well made, but tritely thought out and endlessly reiterated. The comedy was more quietist and sometimes lost within the dense texture of Tati's habitual long shot. Mon Oncle opposed two ways of living in a city with a simplistic monotony; Plai/time was a study of the excesses of modem tourism, and Trafic was devoted to the undemanding proposition that the motor car is a convenience that is inconvenient. Trafic was pretty and empty, not worth the car chase sequence in Bogdanovich’s What's Up, Doc? American farce, from Keaton and Groucho to Bringing Up Baby and Doc?, has always let social significance look after itself and concentrated instead on plausible character studies and inescapable narrative spirals. But the Tati man moves with the tendentious vagueness of a monk, garbed in salvation but not visibly human.

    Connections

    • t the Lido de Paris he met and fell in love with the young Austrian/Czech dancer Herta Schiel, who had fled Vienna with her sister Molly at the time of the Anschluss. In the summer of 1942 Herta gave birth to their daughter, Helga Marie-Jeanne Schiel. Due to pressure from his sister Nathalie, Tati refused to recognise the child and was forced by Volterra to depart from the Lido at the end of the 1942 season. In 1943, after a short engagement at the ABC, where Édith Piaf was headlining, Tati left Paris under a cloud, with his friend Henri Marquet, and they settled in the Village of Sainte-Sévère-sur-Indre. While residing there they completed the script for L'École des facteurs (The School for Postmen) that would later provide material for his first feature, Jour de fête.

      Herta Schiel would remain in Paris throughout the war, where she would make acquaintance with the physician Jacques Weil when he was called upon to treat her sister Molly for the then-incurable tuberculosis (TB). Through Weil, second in command of the Juggler network of the SOE F Section networks, both sisters were recruited into the French Resistance.

      In 1944, Tati returned to Paris and, after a brief courtship, married Micheline Winter.

      On 23 October 1946 Tati fathered his second child, Sophie Catherine Tatischeff.

      1949 was the year of the birth of Tati's son, Pierre-François Tatischeff, alias Pierre Tati. Both Pierre and Sophie would go on to work in the French film industry in various capacities, beginning in the early 1970s. Notably, they both worked on Jean-Pierre Melville's last film, Un flic, (1972).
    • spouse: Micheline Winter
    Jacques Tati
    See on larger map
    Died November 5, 1982
    (aged 75)
    Nationality
    • 1935 - 1982
      Filmmaker, actor, screenwriter, director
      Paris, France