Monsieur Hulot's Holiday

Monsieur Hulot's Holiday ★★★★★

I dove into the Criterion Collection's Complete Jacques Tati with this, his second full length movie. And what a dive it was! It was a stressful week for me as I started putting the final touches on my grad school applications and work threw everything it could at me, so when I sat down with this movie Saturday night it was the cure for what ailed me. I didn't know what I was getting into, but once the sounds of a delightful French beach resort town began to flow I knew I was in it to win it.

There are a few comparisons to be made to America's silent film comedians: Tati's Mr. Hulot does a funny walk and often has a prop much like Chaplin's Tramp, and he works in some delightful physical gags with seeming ease. There's something exceedingly relaxing, though, about his being. It is as if Tati saw those actors/directors and said, yes, I'll do it like that, but I'm not going to be as manic or over the top as them. Mr. Hulot is a dunce, but the worst thing that he does is get a guy locked in a trunk for half a minute. Almost everything is toned down from what you would see in an American comedy of the time (or earlier), and that creates a wonderful mood that fits the vacation setting perfectly. It's not as funny a film as those works and it doesn't need to be.

I say almost everything is toned down because there are a few things that are interestingly amplified. The first is the supporting cast, an eclectic mix of French and foreign vacationers each with their odd quirks and chances to be silly. My favorites were the old couple, the wife who would saunter out in front and the husband who would follow a yard back. That was like a thesis for the movie to me: take your time, enjoy doing nothing. The other element added in comparison to those silent classics is the sound. There's always a wide swath of noise, be it kids playing, waves crashing, or dinner bells ringing that totally sell the vacation destination as a real place. Mr. Hulot brings some dissonance to the proceedings, including playing loud rock music and setting off a hundred or so fireworks, but it's really this, "Quel temps fait-il a Paris" by Alain Romans (www.youtube.com/watch?v=2N8zGSb5-jw) that plays such a large role in the film and brings with it yet another element of relaxation and calm. The scene towards the end of the film where Mr. Hulot and the attractive young girl he has been interested in the whole time dance to it immediately entered my personal pantheon of fantastic dance scenes. It is, like the rest of the film, a really really nice time.