The One about Jacques Tati’s “M. Hulot’s Holiday”

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A wonderful performance by Jacques Tati, “M. Hulot’s Holiday” is the precursor of Hulot’s perspective towards life, modern advancement in society which would eventually become a storyline prevalent in “Mon Oncle” and “Playtime”.

In my case, I have watched the order of these films in reverse with “Playtime” and then “Mon Oncle” before “M. Hulot’s Holiday” and if anything, it has given me perspective of Tati. When you consider how his earlier short films have showcased his physical comedy, the settings during the 30′s and 40′s were of old France. As seen in Rene Clement’s 1936 film in which Tati starred in (and is included on this DVD), a small farming village with a boxing rink, we are able to see the open fields, trees and unpaved land.

In the 1950′s, Paris and the country of France started to go through significant changes and although not too evident in “M. Hulot’s Holiday”, as it would be in his next two films, “M. Hulot’s Holiday” is a film showcasing the gauche Monsieur Hulot as he partakes in a vacation resort usually attended by the rich.

When he drives his single passenger, small automobile that is slow and noisy to his clumsiness (and really not aware of it) as he rides a canoe which breaks in half in the water and making people think a monster is in the ocean, to M. Hulot playing tennis. Not knowing what the game is about but is able to score significant aces during his match. The film features plenty of hilarious gags which are precisely choreographed.

In one scene, we see M. Hulot painting his canoe on the shore. While he places his paint bucket next to him, he is unaware that the tide keeps moving the paint bucket from right to left and vice versa. But each time he puts his paint brush down, the paint bucket arrives just in time.

These are scenes that are reminiscent of classic Chaplin and Keaton. The classic years of silent cinema and slapstick comedy that Tati is able to convey through his 1953 film.

Jacques Tati and Nathalie Pascaud ("Martine") in M. HULOT'S HOLIDAY

Jacques Tati and Nathalie Pascaud (“Martine”) in M. HULOT’S HOLIDAY

But where the charm was in 1953 of the debut of Monsieur Hulot, I felt was much better conceived in “Mon Oncle” and “Playtime”. In “M. Hulot’s Holiday”, the film does get a bit repetitive as the film tends to focus on Hulot’s bumbling style. Hilarious as it may be, what makes his two other films work are the gags showcasing the other characters of the film. And I think that is what Tati learned from making this film, that one’s preoccupation with Hulot can only go so far, that he would have to let the other characters in the film, also partake in the gags as well. And this is where the formula works, especially in “Playtime” which I felt was Tati’s ultimate masterpiece.

There is no doubt that “M. Hulot’s Holiday” is a film in which Jacques Tati shines. His physical comedy, slapstick comedy, the cinematography and score for the film, especially how things are just timed quite well is impressive. There is no dialogue yet Tati manages to capture its viewers and I have no doubt in my mind, in 1953, “M. Hulot’s Holiday” was a film that impressed cinema fans and international audiences.

Overall, “M. Hulot’s Holiday” is a hilarious and enjoyable film. But perhaps because of my passion for “Playtime” and “Mon Oncle” and also how it plays on technology and modernism, Tati was able to utilize his cast in full effect as opposed to this film in which it’s primarily M. Hulot that shines.

Nevertheless, this is still a film worthy of watching. This is where it all starts for Monsieur Hulot and cinema fans who are passionate about “Mon Oncle”, “Playtime” and “Trafic” will definitely want to include this film into their collection. Definitely recommended!


 

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Dennis A. Amith