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Friendship with Pierre Etaix


Tati the great observer
Jean-Claude Carrière Film-maker
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What's truly outstanding in the art of a great mime is that, in order to tell me that scene involving lots of people on a Saturday evening in a New York hospital, he chose to portray the switchboard operator who is calling her boyfriend, telling him she is 'very busy tonight', and she won't make it to the date until much later that evening. She puts on nail varnish for her date and at the same time is directing stretch boards coming in, saying, 'Number 45, number 31, no, no... yes'. And Tati himself is there, in the middle of it all, looking at the operator, being himself, the operator was there – I really saw that room in a New York hospital that evening thanks to some hands, some looks, a very few things. That was... that is the great art of the mime. He was an outstanding mime. I have heard – as I was not there when he died, he died at the hospital, he had had several cancers in a row – when he was dying, in his last moments, with tubes coming out from everywhere, the doctor came in – he had called for him – the doctor leant towards him and Tati said, 'Doctor, there is something going on between the nurse and the night duty doctor', and he died. He had been observing life around him right up to the end, and he died giving a last lesson on how to observe to the doctor.

Ce qui est tout à fait étonnant dans l’art d’un grand mime c’est que pour me raconter cette scène où il y a beaucoup de monde un samedi soir dans un hôpital de New York il a prit la place de la standardiste de l’hôpital qui est au téléphone en train d’expliquer à son boyfriend que it is very busy tonight et qu’elle ne pourra pas venir au rendez-vous avant une certain heure. En même temps elle se met du vernis à ongles parce qu’elle doit sortir avec lui et en même temps elle dirige les différents brancards qui arrivent… en disant  number 45, number 31, no, no… yes… et Tati lui même est là au milieu regardant la standardiste, comme ça... lui même se faisant… la standardiste était… J’ai vu cette salle de l’hôpital de New York ce soir là grâce à quelques mains, quelques regards, avec très, très peu de chose. C’était ca c’est le grand art du mime. Il était un mime incomparable. Il paraît que… je n’étais pas là, mais quand il est mort, il est mort à l’hôpital, il avait plusieurs cancers l’un après l’autre… quand il est mort  il était agonisant avec des tuyaux partout, le docteur est arrivé… il a appelé le docteur, le docteur s’est penché vers lui et il lui a dit: «Docteur… il y a quelque chose… entre l’infirmière et l’interne de nuit» et il est mort. Jusqu’au bout il avait observé la vie autour de lui et il est mort en donnant une dernière leçon de regards au médecin.

French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière (1931-2021) began his association with films aged 24 when he was selected by Jacques Tati to write for him. This early experience led to further contact with other film-makers, including Luis Buñuel with whom Carrière collaborated for many years. He wrote screenplays for films including Belle de Jour, The Discreet Charms of the Bourgeoisie, Tin Drum and Danton.

Listeners: Andrzej Wolski

Film director and documentary maker, Andrzej Wolski has made around 40 films since 1982 for French television, the BBC, TVP and other TV networks. He specializes in portraits and in historical films. Films that he has directed or written the screenplay for include Kultura, which he co-directed with Agnieszka Holland, and KOR which presents the history of the Worker’s Defence Committee as told by its members. Andrzej Wolski has received many awards for his work, including the UNESCO Grand Prix at the Festival du Film d’Art.

Tags: New York, Jacques Tati

Duration: 1 minute, 34 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2010

Date story went live: 26 July 2010