There are moments on saxophonist Stephane Nisol’s Trafic d’Influences which could slide right into Jacques Tati’s final film. The last in the tetralogy of Monsieur Hulot outings, Trafic see’s the bumbling protagonist transporting his innovative motorhome from Paris to an automobile show in Amsterdam. It’s a farcical affair, full of insights and car crashes that only long distance journeys can arouse.
The album begins with the switching of a radio. You can almost see Monsieur Hulot, hat firmly on his head, tapping his pipe on the outside of his door whilst he flits to a station of his satisfaction.
Happy, he puts the motorhome in gear and pulls off. The drumming in Lou Maë acts as a perfect representation of a sputtering engine, working hard to carry the heavy load of Monsieur Hulot’s holiday provisions. A bell rings two-thirds of the way through the song; a cyclist has been comically forced off the road, landing in a hedge. Unaware of the incident, Hulot drives on. The cyclist waves his fist.
Track three, Magatte, and we’re really rolling; wheels smoothly go around. This is open road, not a care in the world music. Hulot looks out of the window at a passing van, the driver of which is relieving his nose of obstacles. Today, Hulot cannot be disgusted by such an action, he is enjoying the drive too much. Premier Jour De Printemps plays on.
Some way into the journey, right at the point of the DJ selecting Elia as his next track, it begins to rain. Hulot passes a couple, huddled together, trying to escape the downpour. They left the house without a coat or umbrella; the forecast didn’t suggest rain. The windscreen wipers go back and forth.
Finally, sunshine, happiness resumes. But, little does Hulot know, around the next few bends a farmer is having a hard time controlling his sheep. They are blocking the road, stumbling in time to La Panthère Bleue. Monsieur Hulot slams onto his breaks. A line of cars in waiting forms. The farmer looks exasperated, but eventually clears the road with the Hulot’s help.
He jumps back into the motorhome; the traffic is now moving steadily along. City roads morph into country lanes. Hulot relaxes, going right over a red light at a crossroad. Two oncoming vehicles collide, at the exact moment symbols crash in the title track, Trafic d’Influences. Again, our man Hulot doesn’t know of the carnage he has left. He drives on. Amsterdam is now on the signposts.
On an unpopulated stretch of motorway, blue skies above, grass lands to the left and right, Monsieur Hulot’s mind drifts to the plains of the savanna. Gazelles run around his head. His air freshener is Parfum d’Afrique, it is also the standout track on the record.
However, the reverie is short lived. Another turning, another jam. A lorry carrying multi-coloured rubber ducks has overturned. This time Hulot is far back in the line. He tries to remain patient, but can see the frustration of the people around him. Histoire Secrète plays to his sadness.
Obstruction cleared, he sets off again. As he passes, the driver of the lorry asks him to roll down his window, which he does, and is handed a little rubber duck. He places it affectionately on the dashboard; the singer on Couleurs d’Automne serenades, saying ‘look into my eyes, and you will see, my love is still there.’
The song continues as Monsieur Hulot arrives in Amsterdam and finds the automobile show. He parks, steps out of the motorhome, and puts the little rubber duck in his jacket pocket. The last he hears before he closes the door, marking the end of his journey, is the contemplative Après Minuit.
The radio continues to play. The battery of the motorhome runs flat.