Jacques Tati's "Monsieur Hulot's Holiday"

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, January 15, 2017 07:42pm | Post a Comment

Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday

By Nazeeh Alghazawneh

Jacques Tati was quite the oddity for French cinema, especially for someone whose career began as Monsieur Hulot’s Holidayearly as the 1930s. Here comes a man standing at 6’3” who is creating absurd, French slapstick comedies in which he stars as a bumbling, gauche oaf who lumbers about society with as much subtlety as one can who is 6’3”. Yet he was an auteur, a man whose grasp of comedy functioned in this lovely space of purely good intentions despite his inherent tendencies to cause amok everywhere he set foot. One couldn’t possibly find a trace of malice anywhere in the droop of his large eyes that hang comfortably onto the prominence of his bulbous nose, which only furthers his overall demeanor through the wide-set stance of his incredibly long legs that can’t help but remind someone of those inflatable mascots outside of car dealerships.

Of course the man as a director and the man as an actor are two very different personalities, as one is who he actually is while the other is fictional; however, Tati’s decision to star in his own films as opposed to hiring someone else was a very bold artistic choice because nothing about the man’s physicality fit into the elegant sophistication that French society had based its identity on. It’s this stark juxtaposition of societal decorum subverted by benevolent incompetence in which Tati not only found and excelled at his humor, but absolutely reveled in. He constructed a world that allowed him to indulge in his many idiosyncrasies as a physical comedian and performer, while simultaneously poking fun just how seriously people at the time took themselves and their social hierarchies. It’s here that Tati’s most famous character, Monsieur Hulot, was born and forever ingrained into the bellies of anyone who laughed at the silly Frenchman.

After the success of Tati’s excellent feature-length debut, Jour de fête (The Big Day), the director decided against the advice of his producer of making a sequel and instead chose to create a persona that strayed away from the French stereotypes of his first film. This persona manifested itself in the form of Monsieur Hulot in the film Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday) in which Tati presents us with a man who’s simply trying to live his life and relax at a beachside resort. Of course this doesn’t happen, as Hulot just can’t seem to catch a break due to his predisposition of knocking, tripping, falling, and running into nearly everything and everyone he comes into contact with. The result is a series of of highly imaginative yet simple sight-gags that barrage the viewer in a flurry that nearly induces comedic whiplash. These gags act as the backbone of a film that essentially lacks a progressive plot, so you’re just hanging out with the locals as you all witness Tati deconstruct the extremely expensive ambiance of the resort. Monsieur Hulot’s accidental brilliance lies in his ability to unknowingly poke holes in the very vapid and gilded facade of the French bourgeoisie society by simply being himself. Hulot’s genuine demeanor glows from a very warm place of universal humanity that everyone can relate to; that warmth is sharply juxtaposed by the pretentious coldness of the stuffy bourgeoisie that are too fixated on their own shallowness to actually enjoy their lives.

The remarkable characteristic of Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday is the symbiotic interrelationship of its themes of physical slapstick comedy and subtextual social commentary because the film would have been excellent with merely the former. This was only the beginning for Tati, who would go on to expand his comedic style through Hulot’s character, trying to exist and adapt in the modern age, through films such as Mon Oncle (1959), Playtime (1967), and Trafic (1971). There’s a strange irony to Tati’s cinematic world as it simultaneously manages to examine the existential issues of the times while also existing in another plane devoid of time entirely. See these films and more on the Criterion Collection: The Complete Jacques Tati.

Criterion Collection: The Complete Jaques Tati

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France (24), Film (186), Jacques Tati (2), Nazeeh Alghazawneh (2), French Cinema (7)