Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1953)

Mr. 1Jacques Tati's Mr. Hulot's Holiday is one of the most charming and original comedies ever made. Critic Roger Ebert states, "It is not a comedy of hilarity but a comedy of memory, nostalgia, fondness and good cheer." They're some real funny moments in the film, but Mr. Hulot's Holiday brings us much more than just slap-stick humor and laugh-out loud gags. It also presents to the audience a rare, odd, and amusing affection for people, life and of human nature. When the film was first released it immediately delighted and charmed audiences along with introducing to the world the iconic accident prone character of Mr. Monsieur Hulot; played by none other than Jacques Tati himself. Monsieur Hulot is a tall gawky man who can be looked at as something as a comic Everyman. Stanley Kauffmann observed the character as, "a creature of silhouettes. There is never a close-up of him, and his facial expressions count for little.” Hulot's has several quirky physical mannerisms which include a tilted posture, aloof clumsiness, and loping walk. He is always extremely friendly to a fault, and is almost always seen smoking a pipe and observing others, while audiences observe him. Jacques Tati's brilliance in slapstick and physical comedy has prompted many fans and critics over the years to compare Mr. Hulot's Holiday to the silent classics of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Mr. Hulot's Holiday tells the story of Mr. Hulot vacationing at a small seaside hotel by the sea, in Brittany. Hulot arrives in his improbable little car, (inconveniencing a dog which wants to sleep in the road), which closely resembles a car specifically made for a Soap Box Derby competition, which rides on bicycle wheels. During his vacation Hulot is clearly never the man for the job, whether it's attempting to grapple with a heavy suitcase, ride a temperamental horse, or drive his extremely faulty motor car.

And yet in the end like all the great comedic clowns, Hulot manages to land on his feet, unshaken by his experiences, and most of the time is largely unaware of the comic destruction he has been creating on those who've crossed his path. Tati doesn't make a point trying to establish characters through its story but over time we begin to gradually recognize faces, and link familiar character traits and eccentric manners for each particular person. There is the attractive blond who arrives on holiday and rents a room by herself. They're the squabbling pair of hotel waiters, one in particular who seems astonished at the things his guests do, an old couple who believe they are assigned to inspect everything in their path, a retired general who is easily offended by the smallest of things, and the small mischievous children, with one particular child almost certain he will spill his ice-cream cone, but never does. And yet it's the little subtle moments that make each new viewing of Mr. Hulot's Holiday more enjoyable than the last, as director Jean-Luc Godard stated, "This is what interests Tati. Everything and nothing. Blades of grass, a kite, children, a little old man, anything, everything which is at once real, bizarre, and charming."

 

PLOT/NOTES

Mr.Hulot's Holiday follows the generally harmless misadventures of a lovable, gauche Frenchman, Monsieur Hulot (played by Tati himself), as he joins the "newly-emerging holiday-taking classes" for an August vacation at a modest seaside resort.

The film affectionately lampoons several hidebound elements of French political and economic classes, from chubby capitalists and self-important Marxist intellectuals to petty proprietors and drab dilettantes, most of whom find it nearly impossible to free themselves, even temporarily, from their rigid social roles in order to relax and enjoy life.

The film also gently mocks the confidence of postwar western society in the primacy of work over leisure and the value of complex technology over simple pleasures, themes that would resurface in his later films.

For the most part, in Les vacances, spoken dialogue is limited to the role of background sounds. Combined with frequent long shots of scenes with multiple characters, Tati believed that the results would tightly focus audience attention on the comical nature of humanity when interacting as a group, as well as his own meticulously choreographed visual gags. However, the film is by no means a 'silent' comedy, as it uses natural and man-made sounds not only for comic effect but also for character development.

The film was made in both French and English language versions. While Tati had experimented with color early in other films, Mr. Hulot's Holiday is black and white. The jazz score, mostly variations on the theme "Quel temps fait-il à Paris", was written by Alain Romans.

Mr. Hulot's Holiday received an Oscar nomination (shared with Henri Marquet) for Best Original Screenplay.

Mr. Hulot's Holiday was shot in the town of Saint-Marc-sur-Mer, which lies on the edge of the industrial port of Saint-Nazaire, in the Département of Loire-Atlantique. Tati had fallen in love with the beguiling coastline while staying in nearby Port Charlotte with his friends, M. and Mme Lemoine, before the war and resolved to return one day to make a film there.

Tati and his crew turned up in the summer of 1951, " took over the town and then presented it to the world as the quintessence of French middle-class life as it rediscovered its rituals in the aftermath of the Second World War." "Neither too big nor too small, St Marc fitted the bill - a sheltered inlet, with a graceful curve of sand, it boasted a hotel on the beach on which the main action could be centered. Beach huts, windbreaks, fishing boats and outcrops of rock helped to complete a picture which was all the more idyllic for being so unspectacular." A bronze statue of Mr. Hulot's was later erected and overlooks the beach where the film was made.

On its release in the United States, Bosley Crowther's review said that the film contained "much the same visual satire that we used to get in the 'silent' days from the pictures of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and such as those." He said the film "exploded with merriment" and that Tati "is a long-legged, slightly pop-eyed gent whose talent for caricaturing the manners of human beings is robust and intense.... There is really no story to the picture.... The dialogue... is at a minimum, and it is used just to satirize the silly and pointless things that summer people say. Sounds of all sorts become firecrackers, tossed in for comical point."

Tati biographer David Bellos has described the film as "Sublime," and said that, "It was through this film that I first fell in love with France. I think that is true of a lot of people." The journalist Simon O'Hagan, writing on the occasion of the film's 50th anniversary in 2003, wrote that the film, "might contain the greatest collection of sight gags ever committed to celluloid, but it is the context in which they are placed and the atmosphere of the film that lift it into another realm. The central character is an unforgettable amalgam of bafflement at the modern world, eagerness to please and just the right amount of eccentricity - i.e. not too much - his every effort to fit in during his seaside holiday merely succeeds in creating chaos out of orderliness. Puncturing the veneer of the comfortably off at play is by no means the least of Tati's concerns. But, there is an elegiac quality too, the sense that what Tati finds funny he also cherishes."

-Wikipedia

 

ANALYZE

One of the most original—and hilarious—comedies ever made, M. Hulot’s Holiday has delighted and disarmed moviegoers the world over since its first appearance in 1953. There’s little in the way of plot or dialogue to this French-made farce about a group of vacationers at a small seaside hotel. But an unconventional form has not stood in the way of audience appreciation of the film’s comic content—good, old-fashioned slapstick fun. Writer-director Jacques Tati’s penchant for physical wit has prompted many to compare M. Hulot’s Holiday to the silent classics of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. And truth to tell, the temptation for comparison is just about irresistible in light of the film’s hero, the hilariously accident-prone M. Hulot—played by Jacques Tati himself.

With his tilted, loping walk, quirky physical mannerisms and self-absorbed air, the tall, gawky M. Hulot is something of a comic Everyman. Whether attempting to grapple with a heavy suitcase, a temperamental horse, or a faulty motor car, Hulot is plainly not the man for the job. But like all the great movie clowns, Hulot—for all the scrapes he gets into—still manages to land on his feet, unshaken by his experiences, and largely unaware of the comic havoc that he has inadvertently wreaked on those who’ve crossed his path.

Still, for all the lines that might be drawn connecting Tati’s Hulot with Chaplin’s Tramp or Keaton’s “Great Stoneface,” there are important differences as well. As Tati describes it, “What I wanted to present with the character of Hulot was a man you can meet in the street, not a music hall character. He does not know that he is being funny.” Hulot is indeed a perfectly ordinary fellow. Chaplin and Keaton are always the instigators of comic situations. Hulot grapples with circumstances set in motion by others. More important, unlike his comic predecessors, Hulot is not the whole show. In Tati’s eyes the antics of the other hotel guests are equally deserving of attention—and laughter.

Hulot’s comic comings and goings are part of a network of gags and situations woven together and unfolded simultaneously on screen. We may be following Hulot principally, but we are also tracking the movements of a small family, a young woman on holiday alone, a constantly strolling middle-aged couple, a constantly squabbling pair of hotel waiters, and any number of small children, pulling pranks or simply wandering about between the seashore and the hotel.

Tati keeps all this action in focus through a virtual mastery of comic film technique. He never uses close-ups. The camera is always placed mid-distance from the action—exactly where we’d be standing if we happened to be a casual passerby in real life. What he puts within each shot is equally realistic. In the world of Mack Sennett or Laurel and Hardy, the most unlikely people, places and things are continually brought together for the broadest possible comic effect. Tati, by contrast, takes the world pretty much as it is—only slightly exaggerating people and incidents for comic effect. As a result Tati finds humor in the most mundane of circumstances.

The sight of a group of guests waiting in a hotel lobby would not, to most minds, suggest a prime comic opportunity. But it does to Tati, as he underscores the situations with a fine—but gentle—satirical eye. Each guest has his or her own slightly eccentric manner or mode of dress. And each has a different reaction to the presence of the others. Hulot enters and immediately causes havoc by forgetting to close the hotel’s front door. The wind blowing through the door into the lobby has the force of a miniature tornado resulting in things being dropped and people bumping into one another—much like the stateroom scene in the Marx Brothers classic A Night at the Opera. But instead of the surreal extremes of the Marx Brothers, with Tati we see a scene we can “place” in real life.

Tati’s penchant for realism, combined with his taste and restraint, make M. Hulot’s Holiday the sort of comedy that one can enjoy again and again. A first viewing will have you laughing at the classic comedy scenes like Hulot’s tennis game, or the uproarious scene in which the hapless Hulot finds himself mistaken for a mourner at a country funeral—and that’s not to mention the bits with the muddy footprints, the raucous jazz record, or the runaway car.

Mr. 2But later viewings reveal something else, for Tati is the antithesis of the laughs-at-any-price gagman. He wants us to laugh, but he also wants something more. In the words of critic Pauline Kael, “Tati is sparse, eccentric, quick. It is not until afterward—with the sweet nostalgic music lingering—that these misadventures take on a certain poignancy and depth.” For film director Jean-Luc Godard it’s this subtle afterglow—a comic yet becalmed view of the world—that really counts. “This is what interests Tati. Everything and nothing. Blades of grass, a kite, children, a little old man, anything, everything which is at once real, bizarre, and charming.”

-David Ehrenstein

Jacques Tati's Mr. Hulot's Holiday is one of the most charming and original comedies ever made. And yet, it is not a comedy of absolute hilarity or laugh out loud gags. It is more a comedy of nostalgia, memory, fondness and of good cheer. They're some real funny moments in the film, but Mr. Hulot's Holiday brings us much more than just that. It presents to the audience a rare, odd, and amusing affection for people and of human nature.

When the film was first released it immediately delighted and charmed audiences along with introducing to the world the iconic accident prone character of Mr. Monsieur Hulot; played by none other than Jacques Tati himself. Monsieur Hulot is a tall gawky man who can be looked at as something as a comic Everyman. Stanley Kauffmann observed the character as, "a creature of silhouettes. There is never a close-up of him, and his facial expressions count for little.” Hulot's has several quirky physical mannerisms which include a tilted posture, aloof clumsiness, and loping walk. He is always extremely friendly to a fault, and is almost always seen smoking a pipe and observing others, while audiences observe him.

Jacques Tati's brilliance in slapstick and physical comedy has prompted many fans and critics over the years to compare Mr. Hulot's Holiday to the silent classics of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Mr. Hulot's Holiday tells the story of Mr. Hulot vacationing at a small seaside hotel by the sea, in Brittany. Hulot drives down to the seaside resort in his improbable little car, and before reaching his destination he inconveniences a dog which wants to sleep in the road. Hulot's strange looking vehicle closely resembles a car specifically made for a Soap Box Derby competition, which rides on bicycle wheels. Hulot causes havoc when immediately arriving at the hotel by leaving open the front lobby doors, as a miniature tornado blows through the door (and one man's odd-looking mustache) causing several amusing annoyances that probably took several days to set-up.

Hulot is clearly never the man for the job, whether it's attempting to grapple with a heavy suitcase, ride a temperamental horse, or drive his extremely faulty motor car. And yet in the end like all the great comedic clowns, Hulot manages to land on his feet, unshaken by his experiences, and most of the time is largly unaware of the comic destruction he has been creating on those who've crossed his path.

Mr. Hulot's Holiday is a French film, with barely any dialogue in it, as it plays out more as a silent film. Tati creates unique sound effects and half-heard voices to create subtle comic effects, like the odd thwanking sound of the hotel dining room door every time a person comes and goes through it, a pen dropping in a fish tank, an exercise instructor's whistle, and Hulot's unreliable car, which creates many 'pows' and bam' noises which immediately stops the intensity of an active tennis game dead on arrival. Tati worked as a mime and a silent clown as a young man, and so he is naturally brilliant at utilizing the effect of sound to intensify comedic effect.

Even though they're several similarities between Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot to Charlie Chaplin's the 'Little Tramp' and Buster Keaton's 'Great Stone-face', they're many differences as well. Tati describes it saying: "What I wanted to present with the character of Hulot was a man you can meet in the street, not a music hall character. He does not know that he is being funny." Unlike the character of Hulot ,Chaplin and Keaton were usually the main instigators when it came to the comic situations that they got themselves into. Also, Hulot isn't the main comedic part of the story he inhabits, (Especially in Playtime) as Tati creates hilarious antics that also involve several different characters within the story, which might catch our attention when watching the film on repeated viewings. We do follow Hulot's comings and goings throughout the story but we are also following the movements of others.

Tati doesn't make a point trying to establish characters through its story but over time we begin to gradually recognize faces, and link familiar character traits and eccentric manners for each particular person. There is the attractive blond who arrives on holiday and rents a room by herself. Hulot the eligible bachelor takes her for a friendly horse ride and she accepts keeping a friendly distance. They're the squabbling pair of hotel waiters, one in particular who seems astonished at the things his guests do, an old couple who believe they are assigned to inspect everything in their path, a retired general who is easily offended by the smallest of things, and the small mischievous children, with one particular child almost certain he will spill his ice-cream cone, but never does. (This ice-cream seems to defy all laws of gravity.)

With his brilliant comic style, Tati keeps the audience a certain distance away from its characters and the action. We never get particular close-ups of character's or situations and we are placed exactly where we would be placed if we'd be standing there in real life as a casual passerby. Tati creates a world that for the most part is realistic and only slightly exaggerated simply for comic effect or absurd circumstances. The mini tornado sequence in the hotel lobby wouldn't seem like a perfect moment to present a comic situation, but Tati creates one and one that could be slightly believable as well. (That sequence is similar to the stateroom scene in the Marx Brothers comic masterpiece A Night at the Opera.)

Jacques Tati is one of the most creative and audacious director's of all time, and has directed some of the most entertaining and charming comedies. Tati's famous clumsy and well-meaning character Monsieur Hulot always sticks out as a tall awkward man wearing a hat and raincoat and always having a long-stemmed pipe in his mouth, and somehow always finds a way to make an appearance throughout Tati's films. His character is used most famously in 1958's Mon Oncle; which was Tati's first film in color. Mon Oncle deals with the ideas of the rise of technology and mechanical efficiency. Hulot visits his adoring nephew's parent's home in the suburbs of Paris; and the home is a ultra-modern geometric house which leads to several amusing moments. Tati loved the use of gadgets and machines which are supposedly made to make life smoother and more efficient, and instead makes things hopelessly complicated for several of Tati's character's. Hulot again appeared in Tati's film Playtime, except this time his role is much more minimal. Playtime is Tati's greatest achievement and is a film which includes a cast of hundreds. During the production of the film, Playtime was the most expensive film in French history and Tati filmed it in 70mm and in 'Tativille' which was an enormous reproduced set of city streets, high-rise buildings, offices, an airline terminal and a traffic circle. And yet the film was a commercial failure which bankrupted Tati and costed him the ownership of his home, his business and all of his earlier films including Mr. Hulot's Holiday.

The more you return to Mr. Hulot's Holiday the more things you catch, and the more things seem funnier than before. And yet it's the little subtle moments that make each new viewing more enjoyable than the last, as director Jean-Luc Godard stated, "This is what interests Tati. Everything and nothing. Blades of grass, a kite, children, a little old man, anything, everything which is at once real, bizarre, and charming."

They're several funny moments throughout Mr. Hulot's Holiday, many include the extremely loud jazz record that Hulot puts on which greatly infuriates the hotel guests, the muddy footprints that Hulot enters the hotel lobby in, and so Hulot hides behind the coat hanger, shortly before making his run upstairs and to his room. There is the runaway car, a prankster child that finds a entertaining use with a magnifying glass and the heat rays of the sun, Hulot's shoes getting attached to a fox pelt rug, a man accidentally getting locked in the trunk of his vehicle, a charming costume dance party which involves Hulot dressed up as a pirate, Hulot kicking a man in the rear-end believing he was peering inside a woman's changing hut, a hilarious tennis match sequence, an incomprehensible platform announcement at the train station, the annoyance of a ping pong gang, Hulot getting yanked in the sea by a towrope, a misunderstand argument over a card game, a boat which accidently sets sail into the sea, the strange and surreal like moments of cotton candy,  a child's head getting caught in between the steering wheel of a bus, and Hulot awakening the entire vacation resort by accidently letting off a large batch of fireworks. And last but not least Hulot suddenly being mistaken for a mourner at a funeral, along with his flat tire being mistaken for a reef, all the while the air in the tire makes several hissing sounds during the reception.

I come to the discovery that they're two different types of humor. The first type is the man wearing the funny looking hat, already knowing it looks ridiculous, expecting to get laughs. The second type is the man wearing a funny looking hat and he has absolutely no idea how ridiculous it looks on him. I personally never found the first type of humor amusing, but the second type of humor, which occurs throughout Mr. Hulot's Holiday, is hysterical.

They're two sight gags in Mr. Hulot's Holiday which I find absolutely brilliant, and the both of them come right after one another. The first sight gag is when Hulot is painting his tiny kayak, and the tide carries the paint can out to the sea and then floats it in again, perfectly timed, when his brush is ready for to be dabbed again. This happens a few times, and on one occasion the paint can makes its way completely around to the other side of the kayak. I have no idea how this trick was achieved but I found it to be miraculous. No, it wasn't a very funny moment, but I found the scene ingenious in its timing, grace, and comic precision. Like film critic Roger Ebert says, "The sea is indifferent to painters, but nevertheless provides the can when it is needed, and life goes on, and the boat gets painted."

The second moment involves Hulot immediately after he finished painting his kayak and Hulot goes out to sea to paddle in his tiny kaya, which along with the car he drives is the wrong size for him. Suddenly the kayak capsizes and folds up in such a way that it resembles a shark, which quickly scares off several of the guests relaxing on the beach, while like always Hulot remains oblivious to the situation.

Mr. 3What makes Mr. Hulot Holiday such a magical and brilliant film, is that the more times you return to it, the more things you discover, the things more you learn, and the more things you feel. On my first viewing of Mr. Hulot's Holiday, I expected a laugh-out loud screwball comedy. The film wasn't one and so after I finished with the film I felt slightly disappointed. And yet there were key were moments and particular images throughout film that have stayed with me long after I viewed it, like for instance the odd reoccurring thwanking sound of the hotel dining room, the tiny kayak which takes the shape of a shark, and the sight and sounds of Hulot's improbable little car chugging along on the road. When returning to Mr. Hulot's Holiday a second time I already was accustomed to the environment and the daily routines of its character's. And suddenly a miraculous thing happened that has never occurred before or since when watching a film. During Mr. Hulot's Holiday's second viewing it did not feel like I was re-watching a film I already had seen. I instead felt like I was returning to the seaside resort once again for another summer, and I was recognizing all the familiar faces that were there last summer. I found that miraculous, and that rare and unusual feeling has never occurred with any other film I've encountered, besides maybe the films of Yasujiro Ozu. When watching it for a third time I now fully recognized all the major and minor character's, was completely accustomed to its environment and mastered all the small subtle moments that weren't easily noticeable the first or even the second time when viewing it. I also discovered another brilliant touch on my third viewing when watching the film. I realized that the film was less about sight gags and laugh out loud humor, and it was more about the nostalgia of memories for past happiness and joy. Mr. Hulot's Holiday is about the subtle quite moments, the simplistic events of human pleasures, and the desire to get away for a few days, relax and breathe in the fresh sea air. And when the film ended, I feeling of sadness had overwhelmed me, and always does each time I rewatch the film. The sadness that I feel is the sadness that occurs with every person when a vacation has to come to an end. The holiday and summer is suddenly over, and everyone begins to pack up and leave, as I unfortunately watch the hotel lobby, the beach, and the entire resort become empty and completely vacant. And yet I can always pop in the film again, and it is like returning to the seaside resort once again for another new summer. Critic Roger Ebert described it best when re-watching Mr. Hulot's Holiday: "There's the old couple again (good, they made it through another year). The waiter (where does he work in the winter?). And the blond girl (still no man in her life; maybe this is the summer that . . .)"

 

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