Movie Reviews
The Very Best Bike Movies

Jour de Fête Cover Jour de Fête

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

In Jour de fête – a film about technology and change – the bicycle represents traditional, humane values in a world increasingly dominated by powerful machines and driven by the demands of speed and efficiency. The film is a strong indictment of the headlong rush into the modern world immediately after World War II, but its message also applies to today.

Jacques Tati – famous for his role as the bumbling Mr. Hulot, constantly mystified by technology, modern devices and urban life – plays François, a simple, bike-riding mailman in a remote French village. In one significant scene, a car speeds into the village, forcing animals and people to jump out of its way. François purposefully walks his bike in front of the car, signaling it to slow down. This scene summarizes the movie’s main thrust: people should rethink their blind embrace of “progress.” Tati would have made a good Chicago Bicycle Ambassador.

Jour de fête is also funny and original. Just watching the gangly, accident-prone François ride a bike is worth the cost of tracking down this film. He rides as if he’s performing ballet, masterfully mounting and dismounting the two-wheeler, swerving around barriers, dodging obstacles and gliding over tough terrain, but often finishing with a spectacular collision.

One day, a carnival visits the bucolic village and shows a newsreel promoting the modern, efficient U.S. postal service, which uses planes, motorcycles and even helicopters to deliver mail. The newsreel also portrays U.S. mailmen as fit, acrobatic and handsome. This causes the villagers to mock poor François and his old bike. But the mailman rises to the challenge, devising numerous ways (some of which are hilarious, such as sorting mail from his bike after hitching it to a speeding truck) to outdo the Americans.

The story operates on several levels: bike versus motorized vehicles; traditional values versus “progress”; and France versus America. At that time, France had just regained its independence with the massive assistance of the United States. But the proud country was not about to abandon its cultural heritage, pastoral values or, for that matter, cinematic legacy. France would – and continues to – stand up to U.S. cultural, political and economic domination.

This independent streak is driven home by the fact that Tati resembled (physically and symbolically) the obstinate Charles De Gaul. When François runs around saying “screw the Americans” he was speaking for all of France at a time when the U.S. was imposing its will on most of the war-shattered world. At the same time, Tati pokes fun at the French penchant for drinking and fooling around, so the overall effect of the ribbing (in both directions) is humorous rather than serious socio-cultural commentary.

Tati is one of cinema’s most important but forgotten figures. He bridges, with Chaplinesque finesse, the gaps between silent films and talkies; black and white and color; old and new; traditional values and progress. In Jour de fête – Tati’s first feature and one that launched his international reputation – we are fortunate that he uses the bicycle not only as a comic device but also as his ultimate contrarian symbol. Vive la résistance!

Title: Jour de Fête
Year Released: 1949
Duration: 70 minutes
Language: French
Bike Content: 9/10 wheels

Posted by Greg Borzo on 09/03 at 10:09 PM