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Film / Trafic

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Trafic is a 1971 film written by, directed by, and starring Jacques Tati.

It is the fourth and last film of Tati's career to feature his signature character, Monsieur Hulot. In this film Hulot is working as an auto designer for Altra, a fictional Paris car company. Altra's new product, designed by Hulot, is a "camper car" or campervan designed for recreation off the beaten track. Unfortunately for Altra, their fancy new car doesn't actually run yet, so they must haul it to a car show in Amsterdam by van. Hulot goes with the car, accompanied by truck driver Marcel. Riding herd over both of them is Maria (fashion model Maria Kimberly in her only screen role), Altra's PR rep, who becomes increasingly frustrated when the simple task of driving the car from Paris to Amsterdam turns out to be an epic ordeal.

Jacques Tati's last theatrical feature. Tati, who never recovered financially from the box-office failure of 1967's Playtime, made only one more movie, for French television, before his death in 1982.

Not to be confused with the American film Traffic (2000) or the TV minisieres Traffik that the American film was based on; both of those are about the drug trade.


  • Bilingual Bonus: The French word trafic means business trade, aka traffic in goods; the French word for auto traffic is circulacion. Tati always took a dim view of commercialism and seems to be making a point here about how the auto industry changed people.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Hulot is late for the auto show and loses his job, but he doesn't seem to mind, and he makes friends with Maria. And the camper car is, ironically, a hit with the few people still hanging around the hall. The last shot of a horde of cars stuck in a parking lot in the rain, as people walk between them—all dressed in black, with black umbrellas—is more downbeat.
  • Boredom Montage: There's a whole montage of motorists picking their noses. Really.
  • Captivity Harmonica: Just to make the whole border guard inspection station a little bit sillier, one of the people being detained there pulls out a harmonica and plays it.
  • Coincidental Dodge: Hulot fixing a tire on the side of the road. He sticks his butt out as he turns the wrench, exposing said butt to passing cars, but always straightens up in time for cars to miss him.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Maria, the PR rep who starts out the movie in a constant state of seething frustration at the bumbling of Hulot and Marcel and the continual Gallic shrugs she gets everywhere. By the end she has relaxed, laughing and talking with Hulot and the others at dinner and going away with Hulot after they finally get to the auto show only to find that it is already over.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Sexy Maria zooms through a border checkpoint, waived through by the guards. They are so busy looking at her as she drives away that they don't signal the truck to stop, so it rumbles through as well. But the truck has to stop, so Hulot and Marcel end up getting arrested.
    Guard: I was looking somewhere else!
  • Down in the Dumps: Late in the film, the characters drive by a junkyard full of old cars piled on each other, almost as if to say all the hard work in putting together a car (as shown in the intro) is futile, as they will be garbage eventually.
  • The Fool: In one scene the truck has suffered a flat tire and is parked on a relatively narrow shoulder. Hulot is trying to put on the spare tire with a lug wrench. Every time he turns the wrench he sticks his butt out onto the road, only to straighten up after turning, causing the cars whizzing down the road to miss him by inches. He never even notices.
  • Ironic Juxtaposition: The first clip from Apollo 12 is shown on TV as Hulot enters a garage full of old junkers that look like they should be sent straight to the scrap heap. This is a motif throughout the film as humanity's grandest technological achievement is contrasted with the difficulty in driving a truck from point A to point B.
  • Leitmotif: Maria has her own theme, an upbeat little pop melody that plays every time she's driving in her zippy little sports car.
  • No Endor Holocaust: A traffic cop misses a signal as he's spun around by Maria speeding past him, causing a massive car pileup. Every single person involved in the pileup gets out of their cars and walks away from the accident.
  • Not What It Looks Like: The hippies play a prank on Maria in which they trick her into thinking she ran over her dog. Maria dissolves into hysterics. Hulot tries to show her the dog isn't dead (the hippies used a fur sweater vest) but she continues to freak out. Eventually he grabs her, she struggles—and Marcel steps out of the barn to see them both flailing in her sports car in what looks like Don't Come A-Knockin'. He discreetly withdraws.
  • Pimped-Out Car: As revealed at the border inspection station, Hulot's car has a truly absurd amount of gadgets. There are chairs and a table that flip out of the rear bumper. The taillights are on cords and can be pulled out and used as lighting. There's an electric razor hidden behind the horn. The whole car can be stretched out about two feet. The front grill can be used as, you guessed it, a grill for grilling steaks.
  • Road Trip Plot: All the madcap adventures that Hulot and Marcel and Maria have while trying to haul a car from Paris to Amsterdam—a blown tire, stripped gears, an epic car pileup, an encounter with Dutch border personnel.
  • Silence is Golden: Like all the other Hulot films, the humor is entirely visual and dialogue is at a minimum.
  • Stock Footage: Several clips from the Apollo 12 mission to the moon.
  • Those Two Guys: The two motorcycle cops from Border Patrol who detain the van. They do everything in perfect unison—parking the bike, getting off the bike, walking, adjusting their helmets. Then both of their motorcycles suffer flats on the rear tires at the exact same time.
  • Uncatty Resemblance: Not pets, but cars—a whole sequence revolves around drivers and how their windshield wipers mimic them. One shot shows a very very old man hunched behind the wheel; one of his wipers doesn't move and the other lazily glides back and forth. Another shot shows a chatty woman driver talking to her friend; her windshield wipers jump back and forth crazily in the same way that her hands do.
  • The Un-Smile: The Altra salesman puts on a horrifying manaical teeth-baring smile whenever a potential customer turns to look, then drops it the instant they turn away.
  • Visual Innuendo: A shot of a group of businessmen all peeking under the hood of a model car looks rather like puppies or piglets nursing.