PARIS The pipe favored by one of French cinema's most enduring comic characters has fallen victim to advertisers who were worried about breaking an anti-smoking law -- but have earned mockery and ridicule instead.
Jacques Tati's Mr Hulot, whose pipe was as much a trademark as his hat and beige raincoat, is seen riding his Velosolex motor scooter in a poster advertising a retrospective at the Cinematheque de Paris.
But the pipe has been replaced by a small colored whirligig by Metrobus, the group that manages advertising on Paris public transport, because of fears the pipe could break a law forbidding it from "direct or indirect" tobacco and alcohol advertising.
Mr Hulot, the accident-prone hero who stumbled benevolently through a series of films between 1953 and 1971, is one of the most immediately recognizable figures in French cinema and the affair of his pipe has sparked a minor uproar.
The Liberation daily was among many newspapers mocking the cover-up, pointing out that Mr Hulot is not wearing a helmet, is riding an old-fashioned, polluting vehicle and that the small boy riding behind him is not seated securely.
"Why not go all the way with this legislative zeal?" it asked.
Even Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot has been worried. "We're getting pretty ridiculous with this," she said.
A Metrobus spokesman appeared unperturbed, reacting with the kind of assurance in adversity that would have done Mr Hulot proud.
"I really don't understand what all the fuss is about," he said.
(Writing by James Mackenzie, editing by Tim Pearce)