Tati’s international breakthrough is his most optimistic film in what is a purely-conceived characterisation of the inimitable Mr. Hulot.
Dir. Jacques Tati
1953 | France | Comedy | 87 mins | 1.37:1 | French & English
PG (passed clean)
Cast: Jacques Tati, Nathalie Pascaud, Micheline Rolla
Plot: Monsieur Hulot comes to a beachside hotel for a vacation and accidentally, but good-naturedly, causes havoc.
Awards: Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes); Nom. for Best Screenplay (Oscars)
Subject Matter: Light
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
If the likes of Mon oncle (1958) and Playtime (1967) are cautionary tales about the perils of modernity, then Jacques Tati’s early works such as Jour de fete (1949) and Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday are blissful engagements on the possibility of an optimistic future.
Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday was a huge international success and certainly Tati’s breakthrough film in many ways, the most important of which is the birth of one of cinema’s most imitable (or is it inimitable?) characters in Mr. Hulot, parodied for decades, but a singular character never bettered.
Tati’s Hulot here is purely-conceived, a man who has not quite seen the world yet, which is why Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday feels quite different when set against his later works.
Like an innocent child wanting to play at the beach, and literally so as Mr. Hulot arrives at a beachside town on his battered and incredibly noisy car that attracts the attention of the swarm of tourists who are already there.
“A marvelous view, don’t you think, Monsieur?”
The film contains the visual gags and comical situations that Tati fans will be familiar with, though they are less sophisticated than what would transpire in his later films.
Still, one might appreciate Tati’s masterful mise-en-scene and blocking as he employs the formal qualities of the medium (e.g. sound, lighting, etc.) with consistent rigour.
A memorable sequence involves Tati at the tennis court, but one of his most striking sequences in all of his work is a late-night fireworks display, unintentionally set off by the bumbling man.
As the late Terry Jones put it in a specially-recorded introduction for the film, the fireworks sequence is akin to an artillery assault on the manners of the ‘old world’ as Mr. Hulot ushers in a new world order where individualism takes precedence in the pursuit of a more liberal and progressive society (well, until it all gets worse).