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M. Hulot's Holiday (1953); Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot
Topic Started: May 28 2018, 10:20 AM (97 Views)
Laughing Gravy
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M. Hulot's Holiday (1953) Dir. Jacques Tati

The clumsy but well-meaning Monsieur Hulot takes a few days away to a seaside resort; he doesn't arrive on the bus with the others, which was probably a mistake: although he tries to ingratiate himself with his cheerfully clueless fellow vacation mates, mostly he just annoys them or louses up their plans. Only a pretty single woman pays much attention to him, but he's too big a boob to make much hay with her while the sun shines.

One of those films for which I simply do not have enough accolades; like the best works of my other favorite screen clowns, M. Hulot's Holiday has been viewed by me numerous times and yet I explode in laughter again and again every time I watch it. It's not just that Hulot is such a brilliant creation (part of a long line of great screen clowns) but it's that he only has two great goals in life: to stay out of people's way and yet pitch in and be helpful whenever he can, and those seem to be the two things for which he has no talent whatsoever. As for Tati the filmmaker, he fills the film with visual gags (the spare tire at the funeral is one of the funniest moments in screen history) as well as funny sounds (that damn squeaking door in the hotel restaurant just gets funnier and funnier). The film has practically no dialog beyond the ever-present voice on the radio droning on about nothing anyone cares about, even in 1953 France.

Million-dollar Incidental Dialog:
Waiter to cook: "I told you not to serve peas as the main dish."

Very much in the tradition of the silent and early talkie clowns (there's a bit with a guy, his arm, and a fish tank right out of Laurel & Hardy) but made fresh for a new generation. M. Hulot would return for three more films over the next 20 years, each of them great. Tati had graduated from several short subjects to his first feature, Jour de Fête; the studio wanted a sequel, but Tati thought his postman from that film was somebody to be laughed at, not laughed with: he was looking more for an "everyman" character. Roger Ebert, in his essay on this film, said when he first saw it, he was surprised at how little he laughed, but: "It is not a comedy of hilarity but a comedy of memory, nostalgia, fondness and good cheer. There are some real laughs in it, but Mr. Hulot's Holiday gives us something rarer, an amused affection for human nature--so odd, so valuable, so particular." Absolutely that's true, and as Ebert goes on to say, revisiting this film is like seeing old friends and acquaintances again after a long absence. That said, I laugh at this film about as hard as I laugh at anything - to me, it's a riot.

The Criterion Blu-ray includes both the 99 min. of the film that was the 1953 release and a reedited 87 min. version Tati created in the 1970s (which I haven't watched 'cause I love the '53 version so much). It's up to the high Criterion standards and can be found in their Tati boxed set, one of my treasures.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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