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Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot

Posted by keith1942 on September 17, 2010

France 1953

Black and white, 91 minutes. After release some of the original negative and sound track were mistakenly destroyed at the Éclair Laboratory. Tati remade the soundtrack and also re-edited some of the film in 1961, and again in 1978.

Academy Award Nomination for Best Screenplay.

This ‘Holiday’ film introduces Tati’s famous alter ego, Monsieur Hulot. He is an instantly recognisable comic creation, with a distinctive posture, walk, clothing and accessories. Like François he combines grace and awkwardness. He is well meaning but insensitive to the nuances of accepted social interaction. His attempts at social intercourse lead to anything from mild discomfort to wholesale chaos.

The holiday of the title lasts a week and occurs in a Breton seaside resort. Unlike Jour de fête there is not a coherent narrative. There are a series of events that occur in a linear fashion. But what connects them are the common characters and the place. At the film’s end the week has concluded but we sense the characters go on somewhere else, and with little development or change.

The film opens with shots of the sea: and a parallel shot closes the film with a freeze frame transforming the shot into a seaside postcard, complete with postage stamp. The opening is followed by the holidaymakers travelling by rail and road to the resort. Like Jour de fête there is a contemporary resonance here, as this was the period after the post-war economic recovery when the holiday break was re-established.

The protagonist Monsieur Hulot arrives separately by road, establishing immediately his outsider status. He travels by car and the vehicle, a 1924 Amilcar, establishes his eccentricity. His arrival at the Hôtel de Plague, [the main venue for the holidaymakers] confirms this and also commences the continuing actions that disrupt the ordinary tenor of the holiday resort.

The majority of the tourists appear to be petit bourgeois. They include a retired army officer, a Parisian intellectual and an entrepreneur; the latter is constantly chasing deals on the telephone.  There is also a young unattached girl, Martine, the focus of armour by several Frenchmen including Hulot. And there is a visiting English spinster who takes a shine to Hulot.

There are numerous seaside and beach gags, many reminiscent of silent comedy, especially Buster Keaton. Hulot’s car provides several comic episodes, including a justly famous cemetery misadventure. And there are set piece events that play on Tati’s earlier music hall acts, miming sporting characters. The latter include a tennis match, a table tennis match and an attempt at horse riding. There is some gentle humour around the attractions of Martine, but Hulot remains really an asexual hero.

As in Jour de fête there are comic asides, involving the other characters and also the routines of the hotel and the resort. However, this seems more satirical and less affectionate that the treatment of the country village. Partly this seems due to the lack of a genuine community in the seaside venue. What we see is a rather disparate collection of characters bought together by the amenities of the place. I found the most sympathetic group to be walkers and hostellers who appear briefly in the film.

Though shot in black and white M. Hulot’s Holiday shares the style of Tati’s first feature. The camera is almost continuously placed in mid-shot or long shot. The soundtrack includes dialogue, but this is rarely important in terms of plot. The soundtrack of synchronous and asynchronous noises seems more important in the atmosphere and humour of the film. There is not a commentating character as there was in Jour de fête.

The issue of modernity seems less central in this film, partly because there is not a contrast between to ways of life. The satire seems more directed at the conformity and regimentation Tati sees in institutions like the seaside holiday.

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One Response to “Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot”

  1. Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

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