Step right up folks! See the amazing Jacques Tati in his final performance! One night only! One night only! One night only! Live at the Stockholm Cirkus! So hurray! Hurray! Hurray!
Tati serves as ringmaster for the Stockholm Cirkus in Parade. For his final film, Tati’s determined to have the grandest old time possible with the help of his band of merry fools. He doesn’t just have a wide variety of entertainment; he has every type of entertainment from circus clowns to classical musicians. He even has hockey players. On the side are a group of painters decorating the set throughout the show. To top it all off, the audience gets to participate in the fun.
Parade represents a change of pace for Tati, who forsakes Hulot to play himself. This is both his first live performance in decades and his first television special. He returns to his routes as a street mime through his imitations of sports players, from soccer to badminton. His funniest moment is his boxing routine, with a drum beats serving as blows. For a man in his late 60s, he maintains the same athletic graces he had in his short films. He’s just as entertaining delivering his monologues, whether encouraging audience participation (“The artists and the clowns are you and me”) or narrating a fake tennis match (with the audience following the “ball”).
While very different from his previous films, Parade still has the Tati touch. In a way, the circus is the perfect place for Tati. As ringmaster, Tati continues limiting his own screen appearance to maintain equal focus on multiple characters. He has many performers at his disposal, from the classical orchestra to a poodle tamer. He takes it further by focusing on the audience, especially an unruly child close to the stage. He even has the painters staged on the side of the stage to do their work during the concert.
At first, Parade seems to be a regular concert movie. But from the moment a hockey play appears out of the bathroom, you realize Tati has plans to blur the lines between performers and the audience. We probably should have seen this coming when we saw rows of seats consisting of cardboard cutouts. Then the film cuts to sight gags from the audience, including a biker removing his helmet to reveal a giant afro. Then Tati blurs the lines between different forms of entertainment. One sketch starts out with a classical orchestra, then a row of hockey players start trashing the concert and it all ends with hockey players leaping over a piano like gymnasts. The most notable subversion is the painters, who will at times interrupt a performance with their own acts, like using paint cans as musical instruments. Like Exit to the Gift Shop, you can’t tell real from fiction.
As with Tati’s previous films, Parade ends with everyone parting ways, leaving the world empty. Knowing this is his final film adds sweet sorrow with seeing the audience part ways. And then we see two kids step onstage and paint the floor. It seems to be a sign of hope for Tati; a generation to carry on the legacy of former artists. He has always his audience to join in on the fun, and in the final minutes, someone accepts his invitation.