M. Hulot's Holiday
The Criterion Collection
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Pipe-smoking Monsieur Hulot, Jacques Tati's endearing clown, takes a holiday at a seaside resort where his presence provokes one catastrophe after another. Tati's wildly funny satire of vacationers determined to enjoy themselves includes a series of precisely choreographed sight gags involving dogs, boats and firecrackers. The first entry in the Hulot series is a masterpiece of gentle slapstick.
- New Digital Transfer, with restored image and sound
- Video introduction by filmmaker Terry Jones (Monty Python)
- Rene Clement's 1963 short film, Soigne ton gauche, starring Jacques Tati
- Optional English language soundtrack, created by Jacques Tati
- New and improved English subtitle soundtrack
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Tati's "Mr. Hulot's Holiday" follows a simple logline: Monsieur Hulot and a group of tourists attempt to have a relaxing vacation on a sunny beach. Now you're thinking, "That's too threadbare. Where's the detail?". But under Tati's direction, the movie becomes something more. It is both a satire of bourgeois society and a mockery of human labor over simple pleasures. Capitalists, Marxist intellectuals, suburban folk and business owners get swept under the rug. Joy, fun, simple pleasures and innocence are celebrated. The movie is both simple and complex, a hard balance to achieve. Yet it leaves your smiling from beginning to end; even those that don't get the political subtext will enjoy themselves.
I should mention that "Mr. Hulot's Holiday" isn't like the rambunctious comedies of today or even the screwball comedies of the 30s-50s. For one thing, the movie is predominately silent, with the exception of a few sound effects. Second, "Holiday" moves in a deliberate pace, which will leave viewers accustomed to faster-paced comedies impatient. And third, most of the visual gags, which are very funny, aren't discovered until the second or even third viewing. I remember watching "Mr. Hulot's Holiday" the first time and I thought it was a very good comedy. But when I saw it the second time, I noticed some of the intriguing visual jokes that I didn't see in the first viewing. Tati's movies are like a cross between Charlie Chaplin and Yasujiro Ozu, combining the former's gentle humor with Ozu's subtle but meticulous detail and observant approach. I'll go far as saying that some viewers may not like it the first time (although I hardly met anyone who didn't like it), but if you give it a second chance, you may discover something new.
I could go into detail on how great "Mr. Hulot's Holiday" (and Tati's subsequent movies) is and pinpoint some of my favorite sequences, but doing so would deprive moviegoers the pleasure in seeing the film. You have to see the movie for yourself. All I can to tell you is that if you watch this movie, you'll never look at a tennis court, a firework hut, a hotel or a beach shore the same way again. It's also got one of the most infectious theme songs in movie history: a breezing jazz tune with a lovely saxophone and subtle piano chords. Once you listen to it, you'll never get it out of your head.
Unfortunately, four of Tati's movies (including "Mr. Hulot's Holiday") went out of print last year by Criterion and thus not available by anyone, except for third-party sellers for an astronomical price (although there's a rumor that they may return in a Blu-Ray box set later this year). But if you happen to come across "Mr. Hulot's Holiday" on Criterion, do not hesitate to buy it. All of Tati's movies, even his weaker ones ("Trafic"), are excellent, but "Mr. Hulot's Holiday" is essential to all movie lovers. Not only is it the perfect introduction to the director; it's one of the best movies ever made.
Strongest recommendation to buy (or steal) at all costs.
Mr. Hulot, along with the rest of French men and women, is taking the long-weekend holiday at the seashore in a small resort hotel. You get the impression that most of the guests return here year after year. Outings have been arranged, none for children worse luck, and most are ignored by the guests who seem to just take walks, play cards, sit on the beach. Cliques are formed, but Mr. Hulot doesn't belong to any of them. He sailes blithely from activity to group to event getting in everyone's way, creating chaos wherever he goes and unknowingly delighting some of the other outsiders who much appreciate his contribution to their vacation.
Tati must have devoted hours and hours making inanimate objects perform in just the perfect way for the perfect shot. In one episode his very beat-up little car has a flat while he's acting as chauffer to a planned outing. The tire rolls down the hill picking up brightly colored Fall leaves on the way. Then it rolls into a cemetery where it's picked up and displayed for a funeral. The other funeral guests think it's a floral tribute and line up to thank Hulot for his tribute to the deceased. It's all so unexpected and howlingly funny. Great stuff!
The film centers around a vacation to the beach (La Plage) by Mr. Hulot and others. Some light comedy ensues, but I would never call it slapstick. And I don't feel the comparisons to Mr. Bean are fair. Instead Hulot has a kind of clumsy, idiot savant personality. He definitely has boundary issues. At times he picks up a book someone was reading and removes the bookmark to look at it then sets it back down with the bookmark removed. Not what I would call slapstick, but it is genuinely funny.
One of the delights in this film is the lack of dialogue. When you do hear dialogue it is presented as if you the viewer were a casual observer in the room. Conversations are realistic with people talking all at once and heard muted, as if you were listening from a nearby table. It works well for the style. It's a film about people watching performed and directed very well in this style. Another note: I don't think there was a single shot that lasted longer than 30 seconds. The film cuts often, in a wonderful montage style. I think most shots were around 5-10 seconds with a few of the longer 20-30 second shots being a short comedic bit (such as Hulot reaching across the table for the salt). And my favorite scenes were the tennis match and the funeral. Hilarious in a not so obvious way!
This version is based on a 1970s restored reel, so there is quite a bit missing. Most of the cuts though were not terribly important, and often the film was shown, even in France, in a reduced version (90 minutes instead of 110). Most foreign releases were based on the shorter reels also. So in essence, the full 110 minute version is more of a 'Director's Cut' I would say.
There are a couple of extras on this disc, including Rene Clement's 1963 short film, Soigne ton gauche, starring Jacques Tati and an introduction to the film. The extras are rather sparse, but this is not one of the mega re-releases that Criterion sometimes puts out, but rather an improved digital version of a classic with the extras just added on as a bonus. I would enjoy some extras on a later release, perhaps some commentary and a nice 20+ page booklet with writings about the film (Criterion films often include these). Since I am able to get this version from my local library I don't see much point in owning the standard Criterion release. If you can rent it, check it out from a library, or hit up Netflix for the Criterion version, I recommend it. If you love the film it is worth owning, but I would hope that a more complete version with the additional scenes and more extras be released in the future.
But overall an A+ film with some great acting, light comedy, wonderful editing, and masterful directing.