REVIEW: “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday”

Classic Movie SpotlightHULOTMy recent time spent looking at the movies of French filmmaker Jacques Tati has been a true delight. As I’ve made my way through his small but brilliant catalog of films I’ve grown more and more impressed with the ingenious craft at the heart of them. “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday” was the first film featuring Tati’s lovable Monsieur Hulot character and it’s arguably the greatest display of his physical comedic abilities. Tati both starred in and directed this picture and his meticulous approach to filmmaking is seen in every frame from his carefully conceived sight gags to his beautiful work with the camera.

There’s no strict and focused narrative in “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday”. It simply follows Hulot’s vacation at a small French beachside resort. Much like other Tati films, there is a great focus on community here. We’re introduced to a number of fellow vacationers each with their own unique personalities and quirks. There’s no real effort towards character development. Instead they simply become familiar faces who we grow to know through their reappearances. This is one of the characteristics of Tati’s films that I enjoy the most. I love how he develops a community of characters all built around their individual interactions with Mr. Hulot.

Hulot is the picture of gentleness and happiness. With his pipe in mouth and striped socks showing he certainly stands out in the crowd. But it’s his fidgety demeanor and overall clumsiness that makes him so physically awkward, something only rivaled by his social awkwardness which he seems totally unaware of. He simply goes on enjoying life completely impervious to the inconveniences he may be accidentally causing. He annoys several of his fellow vacationers which provides some great laughs for the audience.


For me the true treat was just watching him interact with this wonderful assortment of people. For example there’s the grumpy and mopey waiter who doesn’t crack a smile for the entire movie. There’s the pretty blonde who gets the attention of nearly every young man at the resort yet she lives in her own uninterested little world. There’s the older couple who just stroll around observing everyone and taking everything in. We get the mischievous children and a handful of animals, both of which Tati loves to incorporate into his films. There are several other great characters and we never really get to know any of them yet they become very familiar to us. They all share the resort, the dining area, and the beach with Mr. Hulot which results in some hysterical moments.

First and foremost Jacques Tati is a physical comedian, a skill that dates back to his early years as a mime. His films often reflect back on the days of Chaplin, Lloyd, and Keeton when the stories were told through the amazing vehicles of expressions, gestures, postures, and athleticism. That’s certainly the case here. The dialogue is scarce and the speaking we do hear from people is mostly unintelligible. Instead the story is made for our eyes and mainly told through the lens of Tati’s camera. His skill is incredible and you can’t take your eyes off what he’s doing on screen. It’s unlike anything we see today.

In many ways “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday” resembles a classic silent film yet there is a steady emphasis on sound. There’s the aforementioned chatter from the characters. Most of the time we have no idea what they’re saying yet they are a delightful ingredient. The spitting and sputtering of Mr. Hulot’s funky automobile almost makes it a character itself. Then there are the little things such as the swinging door to the dining room. Every time someone walks through, it makes this peculiar “fwoom” sound. Tati removes the music and places a heavy emphasis on that unusual sound. It may not sound like much but in the flow of the film it fits perfectly.


Tati is also a director of timing. So many of his hilarious gags are dependent on precise timing and I can imagine even some of the smallest scenes taking a lot of time and expertise to get right. Take one scene where Hulot is fixing his broken down jalopy on the side of the road. He is underneath his car but with his legs laying out in the road. Another car comes flying through and at just the right time Hulot pulls in his legs as the car barely misses them. He never moves his legs to miss the oncoming car but to just shift positions yet the timing is perfect. Now there could very well be some camera trickery involved but it’s just one example of the many great gags revolving around perfectly timed people or objects.

“Mr. Hulot’s Holiday” was a huge success upon its release and it remains a cherished movie for many today. It’s a perfect display of Jacques Tati’s artistry as both a filmmaker and a comedic actor. It’s a celebration of silent comedy as well as its own unique brand of filmmaking. It also gives us our first introduction to one of the most lovable characters in cinema chock full of his deadpan humor. Just a couple of days ago as I sat in a theater watching a series of comedy trailers that looked neither interesting or funny I thought of this film. I thought of how lazy and formulaic the one-trick-pony comedies of today are. Then I thought of Tati’s creativity, his style, his skill with the camera, his poetic grace. All of these things and more are beautifully wrapped up in “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday”. I sat in that dark theater thinking the same thing I’m thinking now – “Man I wish they still made comedies like this today”!





movie_theatre - Phenom 5

Years ago as I began to grow as a movie fan I opened myself up to foreign cinema. I can’t express how thankful I am for that decision. And while I still don’t see as many foreign language films as I should, over the years foreign cinema has introduced me to some truly great movies. From the far east to the middle east, from South America to Central Europe, there are wonderful filmmakers making movies all over the globe. While I’ve dipped my toes into the films of many different countries, I’ve found French cinema to be one of my favorites. So I thought it would be fun to look at five phenomenal French language films. This is the first Phenomenal 5 dedicated to foreign cinema but it won’t be the last. Now there are many French films that I haven’t seen so it would be silly to call this the definitive list. But there is no denying that these five French movies are nothing short of phenomenal.

MON ONCLE#5 – “MON ONCLE”  Jacques Tati only made six feature-length movies but that’s all it took to establish him as a fantastic filmmaker. “Mon Oncle” is the consummation of Tati’s many talents all wrapped into one delightful creation. The film features Tati’s signature style of visual storytelling and comedy as well as his familiar critiques of materialism, consumerism, and social elitism. But at its heart is a very funny story featuring one of the most lovable characters you’ll find – socially awkward but certainly lovable. Monsieur Hulot’s sweet and friendly demeanor is infectious and he’s always content regardless of his state. But perhaps my favorite thing about this film is the incredible sense of community that Tati is able to capture. Hulot’s working class neighborhood is filled with life, energy, and an assortment of entertaining characters. Those things also perfectly describe “Mon Oncle”.

#4 – “BREATHLESS”BREATHLESS – Acclaimed director Jean-Luc Godard’s first feature-length film was “Breathless” from 1960. Long considered one of the signature movies from the French New Wave, “Breathless” remains to this day a highly influential film. In the movie Godard went to great lengths to buck the traditional trends in filmmaking by using several innovative visual techniques now forever associated with the French New Wave. But “Breathless” isn’t all about style. There’s also a very good story born out of the social climate of 1960 Paris. At first I had a tough time gathering my thoughts on the movie. But after processing the film and looking closer at the story, it has become a true favorite of mine. Jean-Paul Belmondo and the lovely Jean Seberg are fantastic and Godard gives us some of the best street views of Paris. Groundbreaking and highly entertaining.

MR HULOT#3 – “MR. HULOT’S HOLIDAY – I really want there to be variety in every Phenomenal 5 I do, but for this list I couldn’t leave off either if these two Jacques Tati classics, the aforementioned “Mon Oncle” and “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday”. “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday” is my favorite Tati film and one of my favorite comedies of all time. Every ounce of Tati’s creative genius is on display in this film. As a director he has an incredible eye for structuring each scene and capturing each moment. In front of the camera as Mr. Hulot he brings out the comic brilliance of legends such as Keaton, Chaplin, and Lloyd. “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday” is a very visual comedy with a heavy emphasis on sight gags and perfectly timed humor. There are so many great laughs in this simple but hilarious picture and it’s a profound example of how true comedy can be done without the gimmicks and clichés we often see today.

#2 – “AMELIE”AMELIE – One of the most delightful French films I have ever scene is “Amelie” and delightful is the perfect word for it. It’s the story of a shy and reserved waitress and all of the quirky individuals that make up her everyday life. She’s a lonely soul who tries to overcome it through her playful imagination. The perfectly cast Audrey Tautou is magnificent as Amelie who lives her life in beautifully filmed Montmartre. But there’s also the wonderful assortment of side characters that give this film such life. There’s the mysterious painter neighbor, her wacky cafe coworkers and regular customers, the mean jerk of a grocer. I can go on and on but regardless of who they are, Amelie has a positive impact on their lives. There is so much charm mixed with laugh-out-loud hilarity that permeates this entire picture. Gorgeous cinematography, brilliant writing, and pitch-perfect performances. “Amelie” is a joy.

The 400 Blows (1959)#1 – “THE 400 BLOWS” – Much like “Breathless”, Francois Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows” was a pivotal film in the French New Wave. It’s arguably the most powerful movie about adolescence and it’s an intensely personal film for the acclaimed director. Based on Truffaut’s own childhood, “The 400 Blows” looks at the life of young Antoine in early 1950’s Paris. He’s viewed as a troublemaker by the adults in his life and he finds the streets to be his only refuge. There are several stinging and uncomfortable scenes but all of them lead to the final shot which is one of the most potent in film history. There is such feeling and emotional pop throughout as we see this challenging and often times difficult world through young Antoine’s eyes. There’s also an undeniable technique and style behind the movie’s visual presentation. It’s an amazing expression of Truffaut’s vision and when combined with the brilliant screenplay the result is a glorious piece of cinema history.

So there are my five picks for the most phenomenal films in French cinema. Agree or disagree – please leave you thoughts below. Also be watching throughout the next several days as I review several of these and other French films on the site.