France?s only challenge to the genius of American silent film comedy rests with the inimitable Jacques Tati (1907-82), whose handful of movies mostly feature his alter ego, Monsieur Hulot, who bumbles through modern life with an insouciance worthy of Chaplin or Keaton. Criterion here reissues the fourth and final Hulot movie, first released in 1971 but as fresh and funny as any dumb-doper movie at the local cineplex. If not quite as stunning as Mon Oncle (1958) or Play Time (1967), Trafic returns to Tati?s favorite -- and inexhaustible -- theme: the absurdities of everyday existence. In this case, Hulot, with his familiarly elastic body and off-kilter walk, must deliver a car he?s designed to an auto exposition in Amsterdam. The problems are predictable -- flat tire, engine trouble, traffic jams -- but Tati spins a new turn on every old setup. He choreographs a major accident with visual jokes that invoke both Rube Goldberg and Monty Python. And his montages are pure pleasure: a symphony of opening and closing car doors and hoods; a gaggle of bored motorists picking their noses and yawning; a squeaking chorus of windshield wipers. All of which he punctuates with quick flashes of junked car heaps -- the final resting grounds for the car culture he both celebrates and mocks. That?s Tati?s ambivalence in a nutshell. Awed by modern design, as here embodied in Hulot?s fully loaded station wagon camper, Tati, like Chaplin and Keaton before him, sees the indignities and dehumanization so often inherent in innovation. But Hulot remains undefeated and lumbers on, always falling forward, and always -- as Tati describes him in a supplemental interview -- "human, simple, shy." A documentary by Tati?s daughter Sophie places him exactly where he belongs -- in the pantheon of world comic cinema.

July 25: On this day in 1834 Samuel Taylor Coleridge died of heart disease at the age of sixty-one.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.


When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).