Returning to The Criterion Collection, previously released by them on LaserDisc almost 23-years ago, Jacques Tatiís original 1949 black and white version of Jour de fÍte receives a new Blu-ray edition presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of about 1.37:1 on a dual-layer disc. The high-definition transfer is delivered in 1080p/24hz. As of this writing the title is only available in Criterionís The Complete Jacques Tati box set.
This is actually the first time Iíve seen the original 1949 version. Previous releases I have seen, like the BFIís rather nice Blu-ray, had presented the Thomson-Color version, reconstructed in 1995. Having nothing to really base it off of Iíd say Criterionís presentation of the í49 version looks surprisingly good, though has a few hitches. Judging by appearances and the notes on the transfer it does look as though multiple sources have been used, one not holding up as well as the other. For the most part the image is quite crisp and clean, with adequate contrast and saturation. Black levels are strong and tonal shifts are natural and clean. Film grain is present but quite fine, and detail levels are exceptional.
On occasion, though, the quality of the source can drastically shift for the worse, with the image looking a bit fuzzier and grainier. Contrast levels are also off, with crushing blacks and darker grays that shift between tones in a far blunter manner. The transfer itself also looks more problematic, presenting some noticeable jagged edges on surfaces that run diagonal. These moments can be fairly jarring and are so out of character in comparison to the rest of the transfer that they can be distracting. I canít say why this happens or how these moments were transferred but these shifts are at least thankfully few and the presentation as a whole is still quite good. 7/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Though part of a bigger box set that is loaded with a lot of material, Criterion puts together a rather stacked edition for this film on its own. Since its release Tati had tinkered with the film over the decades and like BFI did with their edition Criterion includes a few versions of the film. The main feature presentation is the original 1949 version of the film, which is nice since BFI (for some reason) excluded that version from their release. Criterion also includes the 1964 version of the film, which was put together for a festival that year. Tati had originally shot the film in colour, using an untested process that didnít pan out (thankfully he shot a black and white version as back-up). He was never able to make prints of his colour version so this version was a sort of stop-gap. Using a rotoscope technique Tati inserts flourishes of colour, mostly thanks to the addition of a new character (whose sequences were filmed in 1964 or so), a painter visiting the town.
Though it looks a little better than the BFIís similar presentation (more clean-up and a bit sharper in places) it should be noted that this is not the same version found on the BFI release. The BFI presents the English language version of the film, which has the painterís narration in English and a few additional scene insertions. This French version pretty much drops the narration and a small number of these insertions that only make sense in the English version.
Criterion also includes the 1995 version of the film, which is a reconstruction of the colour version of the film. This is probably the feature that will most upset viewers. Admittedly itís interesting to see the colour version, and despite the rough nature of the process there are moments where the colours come out fairly well. Unfortunately, for reasons I canít figure out, Criterion has simply upscaled an older standard-definition presentation instead of using the newer, far, far better high-definition transfer used for the BFI edition. Itís true, the high-definition version found on the BFI version is not without its own issues because of the source: the ridiculous colour process, using a waffled textured film, leaves behind very fine grid patterns in the source that are clearly visible in high-definition, while bleeding and saturation are also problematic throughout. The process also seems to erase details, so areas of the frame can be blurry. So yes, the BFIís presentation has problems, but compared to what we get here itís the clear winner.
This standard-definition version obliterates even more detail (those grid lines are gone) and colours are also far weaker and smear that much more, and overall itís far more painful to watch in comparison to the BFIís. Yes the process really limits the image, and itís not hard to see why the Thomson-Color process never took off, but why Criterion would use this awful downgrade when there is a vastly superior high-definition version available is beyond me (Iím going to guess politics probably played into it, or that they were unable to licence the transfer). So for anybody who has the out-of-print BFI edition and were thinking of dumping it, I would hang onto it. Hugely disappointing.
(Not all that surprising to many Iím sure, audio for both versions is presented in Dolby Digital mono. Both are noticeably weaker than the track found on the 1949 version.)
Following these versions is a 1988 episode from the French television show Cinťma cinťma, entitled Jour de fÍte: The Search for the Lost Color. The 30-minute episode is a rather fascinating document about the search for the colour version of the film (the location of which was known by Tatiís daughter, Sophie Tatischeff) and the long, grueling process that went into trying to figure out how the archaic Thomson-Color process worked (I knew a little about it before but actually seeing it here just shows how doomed it was, especially since it appears special projectors would have had to have been used.) This investigation is incredibly fascinating, but learning about the history of the process from various sources (including the head engineer, Mario Solima, and director of photography Jacques Mercanton, who doesnít hide his true feelings about the technology) probably proves to be the most fascinating element. Great addition.
Next is the lengthiest feature, a video essay by Stťphane Goudet entitled A LíAmericaine, running almost as long as the film itself at 81-minutes. This piece (in French with English subtitles) offers an overall examination in Tatiís development in style and gags over his career, but focuses most of its run time on how Tati developed his staging of gags between making the short film Líecole des facteurs and Jour de fÍte, which both not only feature the same Postman (played by Tati) but also feature a number of similar gags. Goudet offers many comparisons between the gags in each film and shows how Tati ďimprovedĒ upon them or ďfixedĒ them. He also points out similar gags in other films and how his set ups would get more sophisticated over time. He examines the various ďthemesĒ found in the gags, with a lot of focus on modern society and its desire to streamline things (and how the body just doesnít want to keep up), while also looking at the framing and Tatiís use of the standard aspect ratio, and then his use of sound in staging gags, like the bee sequence in the film. He offers some contextualization about the French film industry (which feared American films finally being let into the country after Germany banned them during the occupation), looks at the silent film stars that influenced Tati, goes over the Thomson-Color process in some detail, while also offering some notes on Jour de fÍteís actual production. Itís long but I felt it was justifiably so, covering a lot of ground on Tatiís general style. A decent primer for Tati newcomers.
The disc then closes with the filmís very unusual theatrical trailer: it opens with the horrors of war and states how audiences are tired of hearing about it.
Though ultimately these supplements only represent a fraction of whatís available in the 7-disc box set as a whole, short of the questionable use of an old standard-definition transfer for the Thomson-Color version Criterion has put together a wonderful set of supplements covering the filmís history and how Tatiís style evolved from it. Very effective as a whole. 8/10