Movie Project #24: Mr. Hulot’s Holiday [1953]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Mr. Hulot's Holiday [1953]

Mr. Hulot’s Holiday [1953]
Director: Jacques Tati
Writer: Jacques Tati, Henri Marquet
Country: France
Genre: Comedy
Starring: Jacques Tati, Louis Perrault, André Dubois
Running Time: 83 minutes

Reason for inclusion: I had never seen a Jacques Tati film.

Accolades: Oscar nomination for Best Writing (Story and Screenplay), nominated for Grand Prize of the Festival at Cannes, #49 in Empire magazine’s “The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema

Well, it was bound to happen.

Outside of a few purposefully-included trashy films (Salo, Pink Flamingos, and *ahem* Crash), I have enjoyed, at least to some extent, pretty much everything I have included in my movie projects. That has changed with Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, my first Jacques Tati film. I have struggled with this like no other.

Tati himselfs stars as the eponymous Monsieur Hulot, a clumsy, pipe-smoking, socially awkward Frenchman who is going on holiday at a seaside resort. While there, he has a series of misadventures, though none of the other vacationers truly seem to mind his offbeat behavior. Perhaps everyone else is too stuck in their own world to care — after all, this is a break from everyday life for them. Who cares if someone is bumbling their way through their own personal getaway?

Mr. Hulot's Holiday [1953]

This is the core of the film, as we experience summer in this resort as seen from Hulot’s perspective. There are a handful of other characters, but none are given adequate screentime to truly get to know them.

Hulot’s disturbances are mostly mundane, and the film’s gentle slapstick humor gives little in the way of laughs. Outside of a couple of amusing scenes — including one in which Hulot, inside a folded-up canoe, becomes mistaken for a shark — most quickly grow tedious.

Mr. Hulot's Holiday [1953]

Spoken dialogue is minimal at best, and in fact, Tati’s performance is reminiscent of silent era Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. The visual gags are often impressive, and there’s no denying Tati’s talent in piecing them together. It’s just that most are not particularly funny.

Perhaps my issues with the film come from my expectations. I was hoping for something resembling a narrative, as well as more than a few chuckles. The subtle humor and slow pacing also made it more difficult to maintain interest. It’s also possible that part of my unenthusiasm is due to cultural differences. It’s hard to say. I wanted to love Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, but did not find it engaging at all.


13 thoughts on “Movie Project #24: Mr. Hulot’s Holiday [1953]

  1. ckckred says:

    Nice review. I have never seen a Tati movie myself, though I have a copy of Playtime. That’s disappointing to hear, I’ve been meaning to watching this for some time.

  2. Nancy says:

    Hello! How disappointing. I’ve not seen Les Vacances de Mr Hulot but I loved Mon Oncle and Jour de Fête (just posted a review on my blog) though they are not so rich on the narrative either.

  3. Morgan R. Lewis says:

    Like you say, it was bound to happen eventually. There’s always some “classic” that doesn’t appeal for whatever reason.

    I haven’t seen any of Tati’s work myself, though I did enjoy the Tati-inspired The Illusionist.

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      It’s always a strange feeling to be one of the select few to not enjoy a highly-regarded classic. Then again, it’s not possible for someone to like *everything*.

      I would still like to see The Illusionist. Seems like a charming little film.

  4. missellen says:

    It is a shame that Monsieur Hulot’s holiday is Tati’s most acclaimed. While many people are fond of this film, I didn’t overly enjoy it. Playtime however is mesmerising – it articulates such a powerful comment on “modern times” so to speak without relying one bit on dialogue to pull it together, same with Mon Oncle. Jour de Fete was his first film, and it is very charming slapstick in the vein of Chaplin and Keaton. I would definitely not stop your Tati adventures at Hulot, he was a master – give the rest of his catalogue a go!

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