Mr. Hulot's Holiday Movie Review
Tati was France's most treasured screen comedian, and Mr. Hulot's Holiday is widely considered his masterpiece. His major films centered on his screen alter-ego, the goofy, accident-prone M. Hulot, who smoked a pipe, walked with a Groucho-like gait, and wore a signature trenchcoat long before that garment bore any relation to flashers or, later, gun-wielding teens. As a plot, Mr. Hulot's Holiday recounts this character's summer vacation at a seaside resort. But the plot, in Tati, is just a skeleton upon which the gags are hung, and in Holiday these gags occur with Naked Gun-like frequency.
Except that they occur far, far more quietly. A typical joke in Holiday might concern the static-filled, unintelligible roar of the announcements at a train station, the noise that a swinging door makes as it opens and closes to admit waiters in a restaurant, or the ramblings of a verbose wife whose husband answers in disinterested grunts. Tati records these universal phenomena without comment (made today, the wife would be the object of bitchy mockery instead of Tati's kind bemusement), and the situations he presents are so recognizable that they require almost no dialogue. So it is that Holiday, although shot mostly in French, can be enjoyed almost as much with the optional English subtitles turned off.
The soundtrack in Holiday instead is filled with a breezy jazz that perfectly captures the fleeting pleasures of a summer vacation, abetted magnificently by its sunny black-and-white cinematography. It's a one-of-a-kind film, a testament to transient joys that a perfect summer's holiday embody. And, despite its Palme d'or win at Cannes and its stateside Oscar nomination for best foreign film, the retro feel that the passing decades have bestowed upon it may make it even more enjoyable today than it was in 1953.
Criterion, with its usual attention to detail, has included an informative and funny video introduction by actor Terry Jones, a René Clément short from 1936 in which Tati stars, and a dazzling new transfer of the film. Let the vacation begin.
Aka Monsieur Hulot's Holiday, Les Vacances de M. Hulot.