Cast & Crew
An amiable bachelor spends his summer holidays at a small seaside resort where he inadvertently triggers off a series of mishaps.
R Brian Court
Best Writing, Screenplay
Mr. Hulot's Holiday
Where Chaplin established his persona in dozens of shorts before appearing at feature length, Tati cemented the Hulot persona in four features he wrote if that's the word for the films of a skilled music-hall mime who remains essentially silent directed and starred in. His first feature, Jour de fete (1949), put him on the film map as a postman, Francois, shakily riding his bike through his rural French village. Resisting offers to make sequels, Tati surpassed Francois with Hulot, film's high priest of ungainliness. After Mr. Hulot's Holiday came Mon Oncle (1958), Playtime (1967) and Trafic (1971), all built around Hulot's increasing estrangement from modern life and its devices. Hulot doesn't actually appear until eleven minutes into the film. Tati brilliantly prepares us for Hulot's essential anti-modernism by filming Hulot's approach in a wonderfully tinny old eggbeater of an antique roadster, a 1924 Amilcar, sputtering and backfiring en route to the hotel, repeatedly overtaken on the dusty road by bigger, newer cars with more impatient drivers.
Tati (1908-1982), born Tatischeff, knew his way around silent film comedy. The sight gag with which he opens Mr. Hulot's Holiday, following a mood-establishing shot of Atlantic waves breaking on the rocky beach of the south Brittany coast where the film was made, raises the bar for brilliance and inventiveness, and keeps it there. We see a crowd of holidayers packed on a train platform. In response to gobbledygook from a squawk box, they rush down one flight of stairs and up another, only to find that the train appears on the platform they just vacated. Not that traveling alone gets Hulot any respect. As he chugs into the little town of St. Marc-sur-mer, a dog lazily lies in the path of his Amilcar, seeing no reason to move. When Hulot enters the Hotel de la Plage (a real holiday resort taken over for the shoot), his pipe clenched between his teeth prevents the clerk from hearing his name. "U-O" is what it sounds like. It's as much as he ever says.
Apart from what has become its patina of period charm and nostalgia for a bygone time, the delights of the film are tied to the exquisite craftsmanship and detail with which Tati has worked everything out. Where Chaplin wore a derby, Hulot wears a soft shapeless hat. Where Chaplin's pants are baggy and too big, Hulot's are straight and too short, revealing his striped socks and emphasizing his long legs. Moving stiffly, signaling his essential discomfort with life, Hulot suggests a drunken stork. Standing still, he bends forward at the ankles, the pipe in his mouth emphasizing the forward thrust of his posture. Hulot forever looks as if he's about to tip over onto his face. Often he does. He's a triumph of posture as well as movement. Only twice does he taste tiny social victories. Using an exaggerated robotic posture, he demolishes a succession of opponents on a tennis court (his first efforts as a clowning mime were when he'd replay rugby matches for the team he belonged to). Later, dressed as a pirate, he enjoys a dance at a costume ball with the blond single woman (Nathalie Pascaud) everyone at the resort is chasing.
As if to emphasize her unattainability, she stays across the street in her aunt's house, and is seen Rapunzel-like on her balcony. She smiles upon Hulot, not that anything comes of it, or, the film implies, for the Hulots of the world. She prompts one of the most sublime of the sight gags. To ingratiate himself, Hulot carries her outsize suitcase, held in front of him in view-blocking fashion, up the stairs of her aunt's house. On the porch is another suitcase, lying flat, Mistaking it for another step, Hulot mounts it, only to find himself stumbling forward a second later, through the house, careening out the back door, and down its flight of stairs into the garden. As he moves out of the frame on the right, we see a vine on a statue drawn tight, followed an instant later by the sound of a crash. Pascaud, whose real name was Jacqueline Schillio, was the wife of a businessman friend of Tati's. To overcome the husband's resistance to his wife's film debut, Tati cast him, too, as a businessman. She never acted again. He did, once more, playing Hulot's brother-in-law in Mon Oncle. Hulot employed only a handful of professional actors. He preferred real people, directed them meticulously, his job eased, he felt, by not having to get them to unlearn what they learned in acting school.
Another he introduced to film acting was Louis Perrault, who plays the grumpy waiter, and figures in another great sight gag. While motoring, a flat tire brings them both to a halt near a cemetery. When Hulot places the spare on the ground, wet leaves stick to it. At that moment, one of the funeral party snatches it up, mistaking it for a wreath, incorporating Hulot into the ceremony. Pretty hilarious, even if Tati didn't then make it even funnier by having the tire then hiss and go limp with a leak as it hangs on the gravestone. Tati knew enough not to let Hulot hog all the gags. A white mule is the centerpiece when it kicks out the wall of its shed and the boards fall on a roadster's rumble seat, slamming it shut and possibly decapitating its occupant. Hulot reacts typically, which is to say guiltily, fleeing to his garret, only tentatively daring to peep out of it later. The film's most suspenseful moment doesn't involve Hulot at all. It's built around a little boy with an ice cream cone in each hand, struggling up the hotel steps, only to find he has to turn the doorknob to get in. As he does, the cone begins to tilt at an ever more precarious angle. Will the ice cream drop out? Our hearts are in our mouths.
Tati not only used the local children, rewarding them with lollipops and schmoozing their parents, but he used them longer than he thought he would have to. The shoot, which began in July, 1951, was supposed to end in August. It wasn't quite the walk on the beach Tati hoped for. August on the south coast of Brittany that year was exceptionally cold, rainy and gray. Sand got into the cameras, sometimes ruining footage, necessitating retakes. The shoot was extended into October. The bandage Hulot wore on his nose was the real thing. When a gag involving Hulot striking a match to light his pipe and detonating a shed full of fireworks got out of hand, he burned himself. When Tati needed the children, he and his entourage would go to the school at the end of each day's classes and drive them to the beach in two jeeps. In a charming book of reminiscences published by local journalist Stephane Pajot in 2003, the now grown children recall their participation. The kids onscreen did not, by the way, include Tati's own daughter, Sophie. Many years later, she recalled being too shy to pass in front of the camera. In 1999, when a bronze statue of Tati as Hulot was unveiled in St. Marc-sur-mer, she went back and walked across the spaces she couldn't being herself to cross as a child, purging her old fears, achieving a sort of closure.
Speech is used as atmosphere rather than narrative and is hardly present at all, except in seemingly random snatches. Tati was a master of exaggerated bits of ambient and invented sound (the mini-howls of wind coming in the door with Hulot, the maddening plonk of the hotel's swinging door). He spent more time editing the sound than shooting the film. He also kept going back and tinkering with it. He reworked it in 1963 and again in 1978 the most noticeable differences being replacing Alain Romans' piano score with a small jazz combo rendering of its breezy themes and the trimming of sequences involving Hulot's fascination with a taffy-making machine twisting the confectionary glob around its steel prongs.
So in no sense has Mr. Hulot's Holiday achieved closure, despite its framing symmetrical shots of a beachfront souvenir shop being opened up at the beginning and boarded up again at the end. Inadvertently, the film has taken on a documentary quality. Not that Tati intended or foresaw it as that, or as a time capsule. The precision of his comedy was, he often pointed out, based on observation. But then came distillation and recomposition of what he observed. As well as finely-honed anarchy, he got a mood piece, a sort of extension of the dreamy Hulot, with the often bored holidayers floating in and out of the picture, complementing Hulot's awkward puppy-like bounce. Today, the slapstick seems almost touchingly gentle, although still highly energized (check out John Cleese's Minister of Silly Walks on Monty Python to see where you can still go with this approach!). In the end, Hulot is seen sitting with the children on the beach, a childlike ambassador from the realm of chaos, resigned to his utter inability to exert control over even the smallest part of a world ever destined to remain a closed book to him.
Producer: Fred Orain; Jacques Tati (uncredited)
Director: Jacques Tati
Screenplay: Henri Marquet, Jacques Tati (both dialogue, story, screenplay); Pierre Aubert, Jacques Lagrange (both uncredited screenplay)
Cinematography: Jacques Mercanton, Jean Mousselle
Music: Alain Romans
Film Editing: Suzanne Baron, Charles Bretoneiche, Jacques Grassi (all uncredited)
Cast: Jacques Tati (Monsieur Hulot), Nathalie Pascaud (Martine), Michele Rolla (The Aunt), Valentine Camax (Englishwoman), Louis Perrault (Fred), Andre Dubois (Commandant), Lucien Fregis (Hotel Proprietor), Raymond Carl (Waiter), Rene Lacourt (Strolling Man), Marguerite Gerard (Strolling Woman).
by Jay Carr
Jacques Tati, by David Bellos, Harvill Panther
Les Vacances de Monsieur Tati, by Stephane Pajot, Editions d'Orbestier
Magill's Survey of Cinema, by Frank N. Magill, Salem Press
The Films of Jacques Tati, by Brent Maddock, The Scarecrow Press
Jacques Tati: Frame by Frame, by James Harding, Secker & Warburg
Variety reviews: 4/29/53, 6/23/54
Mr. Hulot's Holiday
This film has consistently appeared on numerous critics' surveys as one of the best of all time.
Voted One of the Year's Best Foreign Films by the 1954 National Board of Review.
Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1954 New York Times Film Critics.
Released in United States 1954
Released in United States May 1953
Released in United States November 1995
Released in United States on Video December 1984
Shown at Cannes Film Festival May 1953.
Shown at Sarasota French Film Festival November 15-19, 1995.
Released in United States 1954
Released in United States May 1953 (Shown at Cannes Film Festival May 1953.)
Released in United States November 1995 (Shown at Sarasota French Film Festival November 15-19, 1995.)
Released in United States on Video December 1984