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With: Jacques Tati, Nathalie Pascaud, Micheline Rolla, Valentine Camax, Louis Perrault, André Dubois, Lucien Fregis, Raymond Carl, René Lacourt, Marguerite Gérard
Written by: Jacques Tati, Henri Marquet
Directed by: Jacques Tati
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 87
Date: 02/24/1953

Mr. Hulot's Holiday (1953)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

R and R

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Let it be said right now that Buster Keaton is my favorite film director, and I consider myself an expert on Charlie Chaplin. Watching Mr. Hulot's Holiday, my first Jacques Tati movie, I thought that as far as silent comedy went, I knew my stuff.

I wish I had known not to compare them. For those who don't know, Jacques Tati was a French filmmaker who, in the Fifties and Sixties, wrote, directed and starred in comedy films with little or no dialogue. Unlike his predecessors, Tati had fifty years of film to inspire him, and he is as much influenced by Vitorrio De Sica (The Bicycle Thief) as he is by Chaplin or Keaton. Tati was not so much concerned with getting laughs as he was at how he got them. He wanted the comedy in his films to reflect what was possible in real life. To show this, he only shows his images in wide shots; no close ups. Also, unlike his predecessors, Tati himself is not in every shot. He spends almost half the film on other, incidental characters, some who are recurring, some who are not.

Also, not every scene is a joke. In the beginning of the film, We see Tati in his car, stopped in front of a dog who is sleeping in the road. Instead of an elaborate stunt, Tati honks the horn a couple of times, and the dog gets up and moves. Chaplin would have climbed out of the car, tried to move the dog, found it a dead weight, tried to pry it up with his cane, etc. Tati knows that a dog laying in the middle of the road is funny in itself. This kind of scene is also has a sleepy realism that works with the "holiday" theme of the movie.

Mr. Hulot's Holiday is a sound movie, with all kinds of sound effects and background dialogue. It sounds like everything was dubbed in postproduction. We hear music being played on record players, people ordering food, etc. It was filmed in French and dubbed in English, but because none of the dialogue serves to advance the plot, no subtle nuances of language are lost. (Note: The new Criterion Collection DVD contains both French language and English language tracks.)

The movie concerns Mr. Hulot (Tati) and a group of other vacationers taking a few days at a resort. That's really all the plot there is. There is no character development, no story arc, no dramatic conflict. It's just a bunch of normal people doing the funny things that they normally do. Mr. Hulot especially seems to be something of a klutz and a troublemaker, but we like him anyway. In one scene, Hulot is painting a boat. His can of paint rests on the sand, and soon the tide carries it away. Hulot goes on painting and the tide returns the can, just in time for Hulot to dip his brush in it. This continues, and Hulot doesn't notice. The scene inspires a warm grin, but no belly laughs.

Tati seems to have absolute control over his films. As lazy and disjointed as Mr. Hulot's Holiday seems, you know Tati worked out every small detail in advance.

I rented the Criterion laserdisc of Mr. Hulot's Holiday. The running time is 86 minutes, but Tati's French version runs 114 minutes. (His finished cut of his later Mon Oncle runs 126 minutes, and his Playtime, 155 minutes.) Normally, a company like Criterion presents the full version, but I suspect that Tati didn't understand the power of brevity in comedy, and Criterion knew that. I have a feeling that the cut footage was a necessity.

Most of all, it must be said that Tati was a brave man to attempt silent comedy well into the sound age. That he was successful was even more outstanding. Mr. Hulot's Holiday is a fun, wonderful film that benefits from multiple viewings in order to discover the feel and rhythm that is particular to Tati.

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