Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday is a 1953 French film by Jacques Tati that follows the adventures of a inoffensive French dimwit, M. Hulot (played by Tati himself) as he spends his August vacation at a beach resort.
Tati wrote, directed and starred in only 5 feature films between 1948 and 1974, and in all but the first one, he plays the character, M.Hulot.
Tati's grandfather was a Dutch art restorer and frame-maker who built frames for Vincent Van Gogh and Tati was expected to enter the family trade. But, much to his parents' disgust, after a career as a rugby player, he became a mime and then began to get bit parts in movies, which led him to writing & directing.
Tati spent almost 5 years making this movie and over the next 20 years only made a few more films. Each one became more and more complex and he took almost 10 years to complete one movie, Playtime, much of it financed out of his own pocket.
But it was a commercial disaster and sent him into bankruptcy. He never really recovered from the setback and he died in1982, still trying to pay off the debts.
And although he is credited with only 9 films in his career, he was named one of the top 50 directors of all time by Entertainment Weekly.
This first entry in the Hulot series is a showcase of gentle humor & slapstick and earned Tati an Oscar nomination (shared with HenriMarquet) for Best Original Screenplay. It also won the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
The character of Hulot is a combination of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Inspector Clouseau and Mr. Bean. And his awkward gait makes him always seem to be looking for something.
He wanders blissfully through life, creating havoc wherever he goes, never fully realizing the consequences of his misadventures.
This is a film with no real plot, so don’t wait for a storyline to develop. Instead, enjoy the series of disastrous coincidences, precisely choreographed sight gags and indignant reactions that surround M.Hulot.
Most of the comedy in the film is subtle and there’s as much humor is in what doesn’t happen as there is in what does happen.
Watch for the drooping taffy and the little boy trying to open the door with an ice cream cone in each hand.
The film is noted for Tati's use of wide-angle cinematic framing, in which a motionless camera captures the action without following the actors or cutting to close ups that emphasize the jokes and actors' reactions.
One of Tati’s favorite themes was man’s enslavement to technology, or more precisely, how technology makes us do ridiculous things. The opening scene, in which a group of tourists waits for a train, is a prime example.
The whole scene takes less than a minute of screen time but Tati’s message is clear and unmistakable. The ensuing confusion is entirely man-made, and it is ultimately man who suffers.
Tati also took pride in the use of sound in his films. He would create specific sounds for objects in his movies and would repeat the sound over and over again.
In this film, listen for the door to the hotel restaurant. The wooden “sprunk” each time someone passes through almost gives the door its own personality.
There is very little dialog and a lot of small talk, almost none of which matters in the least. In fact, it seems almost like a silent film at times.
And while the movie may look improvised, is meticulously staged. Watch how clever the timing is in the paint bucket scene and when he tries to level the painting.
The paint bucket scene makes you wonder: is it a trick or did Tati actually study the waves and tides to get the timing just right?
There are very few close-ups, and almost every shot is framed like a vacation photo. The film's final shot even adds a postage stamp to complete the picture postcard-like feel.
The movie was filmed in the town of Saint-Marc -sur-Mer in the Brittany region of France. Tati shot for over a year in St. Marc and, as a result of the publicity surrounding the film and St. Marc, the town erected a bronze statue of M. Hulot overlooking the beach where the film was made.
The Hotel de la Plage is now part of the Best Western chain and M. Hulot is still a huge part of the hotel’s identity.
If you go the hotel’s website, it plays the music from the film, beach sounds and even the sound of Hulot’s car backfiring. The restaurant is even called the Restaurant de Monsieur Hulot.
M. Hulot’s Holiday is about the hope within all vacations, and the accompanying sadness when they end.
This whimsical comedy is not a comedy of hilarity but a comedy of memory, nostalgia, fondness and good cheer.
It’s about the simple human pleasures: the desire to getaway for a few days, to maybe meet someone nice, to play instead of work and to breathe in the sea air.