Bicycle Kick (3)

March 12, 2010

Poujade’s France is the France of the baked-dirt squares where men play boules on summer evenings, the France of old ladies in black sitting in overstuffed rooms shuttered against the summer sun, of peasants in faded blue work clothes, of the little stores tended by the middle-aged women shuffling out of the backrooms. It is a France which distrusts Paris and its frivolities and its politicians and its intellectuals and its big modern businesses.

It is the bourgeois’ France, which won its birthright in the Revolution and has been hanging on to it grimly ever since. It is the France which widened the streets of Paris to discourage new revolutions, set up guilds to prevent overproduction, equated smallness with self-sufficiency, and self-sufficiency with independence. Generations of French children were brought up on the adage: my glass is small, but it is my own.

From a March 19, 1956 article in Time Magazine about Pierre Poujade, whose poujadistes were the tea party movement of postwar France.

In Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle (1958), little Gérard’s uncle is his very own small glass always brimming over. In l’École des Facteurs, (below, 1949), Tati’s postman pilots his velo through baked-dirt squares, delivering mail to little stores tended by middle-aged women. Where Poujade’s was an angry nostalgia, Tati’s dipping, ringing, absurd bicycle seems to outrun reaction. But is that so?


Third in a series of twelve.



What do you think?

  1. I love “Mon Oncle,” not only for Tati’s bicycle-riding but because the movie pokes fun at both the progress-mad bourgeoisie and the endlessly repetitive life-world of the working classes. From some other perspective, above/below it all, Tati asks us to be amazed and impressed with high-design and high-tech marvels, but not to drink the Kool-Aid; and he asks us to be charmed by ancient patterns of village life surviving in the city, but not in an overly sentimental way. His exact contemporary, T.W. Adorno, coined a phrase for this critical, yet neither reactionary nor progressive perspective: the dialectic of Enlightenment.

    Tati’s character doesn’t fit in either sphere, really, though he’s (mostly) more welcome among the villagers; in the end, he is exiled to yet another milieu, and who knows if he’ll fit there? Urban bicyclists face a similar problem every day. We’re too slow and mortal for the manic, roaring street; we’re too fast and mechanical for the perambulating sidewalk. We’re hybrid creatures — neither pedestrian nor vehicle — in a world of sharp, unforgiving dichotomies. But, naturally, this is what’s so fun about it, sometimes.

  2. Comment’s so good, I’m going to get that spoke replaced & get back out on the road.

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