Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1953)

MR. HULOT’S HOLIDAY (Vacances de Monsieur Hulot, Les)

(director/writer: Jacques Tati; screenwriter: Henri Marquet; cinematographers: Jacques Mercanton/Jean Mousselle; editor: Jacques Grassi; music: Alain Romans; cast: Jacques Tati (Mr. Hulot), Nathalie Pascaud (Martine), Michèle Rolla (The Aunt), Valentine Camax (Englishwoman), Louis Perrault (Fred), André Dubois (Commandant), Lucien Fregis (Hotel Proprietor), Raymond Carl (Waiter); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Jacques Tati/Fred Orain; Janus; 1953-France-in English with some French)

“A genial plotless comedy based on silent-screen slapstick and pantomine routines.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is Jacques Tati’s second feature after Jour De Fête. It’s a genial plotless comedy based on silent-screen slapstick and pantomime routines (much like Buster Keaton, but Tati is more aloof and less probing of human nature) that has its laugh out loud funny moments as well as a few dud sight gags. The accident-prone comical character Tati portrays is Mr. Hulot, who was supposed to appear only in this film but the popular character was called into duty on three other occasions (“Mon Oncle-1958,” “Playtime-1967,” and “Traffic”-72).

The gangly, clumsy, pipe-smoking, bachelor Mr. Hulot goes by his lonesome for a week’s vacation in a middle-class seedy Brittany seaside hotel, where he’s chased by dogs, must deal with the proprietor who is upset when guests leave muddy footprints on the lobby floor, experiences bad service when dining near the swinging doors of the kitchen, copes with his sputtering car, finds difficulty when carrying luggage for a vacationing attractive lady that’s heavier than he realized, unwarranted comedy results when stumbling into a funeral and he unwittingly becomes part of the serious ceremony, his knocking over of a valuable Ming vase, setting off fireworks by accident with his pipe that lights up the entire resort area, his losing struggle with a collapsible boat, and various other incidents where he means well but often things go wrong for him and those around him. The gags depend on perfect timing and Tati’s physicality, and most importantly involve the reaction shots from the spectators.

The seaside holiday catches the touristy sounds, festivity and absurdity of modern man’s idea of relaxation. Tati appears as a bumbling lost soul in a world that is alien to him, whether in the competitive tennis game played with questionable rules or just in the beach scene where the older men ogle the pretty younger women and the children laugh and play tricks. It’s Tati’s unique take on things that brings out the comedy in the commonplace activities of the vacationers; the comedy is not forced by him but comes about as a caricature of those who go to ridiculous lengths to try to escape reality to find enjoyment they think they are missing in their regular life. Tati’s comedy of manners follows the silent-screen tradition of Chaplin and it seems to me that someone like Peter Sellers picked up on Tati’s nice guy hapless character in his update of that kind of slapstick shtick.