Parade (1974, Jacques Tati)

Parade somehow loses the plot after intermission. Given the plot is just a night at the circus, usually showcasing director Tati’s pantomiming, it shouldn’t be possible to lose such a thing. But Parade does.

Maybe intermission not coming halfway through the film should be a sign. And at least the post-intermission material sails by relatively quickly, even as the content itself starts to strain. Probably because it’s entirely focused on the orchestra, which wasn’t in the opening half, and the film kind of gives up on the idea of verisimilitude and narrative distance.

Obviously, being a combination of a videotaped live performance and—I guess—staged and filmed material (i.e. not all the shots from the live videotaping), Parade gets some stylistic allowances but post-intermission, all of the insert shots fail. The lengthy orchestra sequence has numerous problem framings where people and settings change, not to mention lighting, and no one seems too concerned with it, which is rather strange given at least the dedication to showcasing the talent in the pre-intermission part of the film.

The first half has at least three good Tati pantomimes and another one where he’s “in character” too much and it feels like it should be in a movie, it has a great magician sequence, and a phenomenal juggler sequence. Plus there’s a cute mule sequence. The cute mule sequence goes on way too long and gets cloying at the end, but there are some really good laughs in it. It’s also where the audience starts losing the plot themselves and can’t quite gin up the enthusiasm.

Not audience as in Parade watcher, but the audience in the film, the live circus audience there for when Tati videotaped. There’s a whole subtext just to their attitude as the film progresses and it’s hard for it not to be contagious. At times it’s difficult to get enthused about the onscreen action—Tati showcases the performer doing a bit, not the performer, so all long shots—because the audience has checked out and they’re a big cue as to how impressive an act should play.

There’s also this “subplot” involving two kids at the circus—who happen to be the only two kids at the circus; the audience is otherwise entirely some very groovy French hippies from the early seventies who all came on moped—and it seems like Tati’s saving them up for something and it goes nowhere. It goers nowhere fast, which is kind of nice—once Parade gets tiring post-intermission, which is in the last third, it’s at least a speedy run downhill.

Parade has some great parts—and some exceptional performers—but it doesn’t come together, which is a bummer. It seems like the initial impulse could’ve gone somewhere. Instead, it ends with a bunch of tedious gag inserts and manages to screw up Tati’s exaggerated dancing, which should be a great sequence. The videotaped portions of Parade are its best, capturing the speed and grace of the performers. The filmed sequences never match the intensity.

Like I said, it’s a bummer.

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