From the Summer 2000 issue of Cineaste, Vol. XXV, No. 3. — J.R.
by David Bellos. London: The Harvill Press, 1999. 382 pp., illus. Hardcover: £25.
In some ways, this is a better biography of Jacques Tati than we had cause to expect from anyone — certainly a more cultivated one than the useful if relatively lowbrow efforts of James Harding in English (1984) and Marc Dondey in French (written with the assistance of Tati’s daughter Sophie Tatischeff, 1993). So it’s all the more regrettable that no American publisher or distributor to date has shown any interest in making this English book available. Even more unexpectedly, the author — who currently teaches in the departments of Comparative Literature and Romance Languages at Princeton — is best known for his work on Balzac (a survey of French criticism over the second half of the nineteenth century) and Georges Perec (a major biography and a good many translations). In fact, there are even a few unforced allusions to Balzac and Perec threaded through this text.
But why Tati? Conceding in his Preface that he isn’t a film critic, a film buff, or a filmmaker manqué, Bellos makes no claims for offering any “last word” about “one of the outstanding creators of the 20th century,” but admits to some curiosity about the sturdiness of the few films Jacques Tati made as an oeuvre — “a set of films which, taken together, is much more than the sum of its parts.” I would argue that this is a quality Tati shared with Dreyer, Welles, and Kubrick — a capacity to keep changing while deceptively maintaining the same inner logic so that years would sometimes pass between these filmmakers’ innovations and the public’s capacity to absorb them.… Read more »