Review: Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1953)


Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1953)

Directed by: Jacques Tati | 83 minutes | comedy | Actors: Nathalie Pascaud, Micheline Rolla, Raymond Carl, Lucien Frégis, Jacques Tati

Ever walked into the cinema with a slight dip, but when the lights went out and the first images were projected onto the screen, that hopeless feeling immediately gave way to a reassuring cheerfulness? ‘Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot’ is one such film that can do that, as are all other Jacques Tati films. Tati’s alter ego Monsieur Hulot can conveniently be described as the inspiration for and the French counterpart of the British Mister Bean. Both are bumbling taciturn Einzelgängers who don’t seem out of place anywhere and can make things quite difficult for themselves and those around them. The difference is that Hulot is a lot more good-natured while Bean has a much more egocentric dark side, at least in the television series, but both characters are characterized by a touch of existentialism, in addition to the visual humor. Between the slapstick we also detect a fathomless sadness and meaninglessness, through which both characters bravely beat themselves through. Especially the annoying male Bean still arouses sympathy or admiration for his ingenuity in this way. Rowan Atkinson and the people behind ‘Mr. Bean’ have looked closely at Tati’s films, in many ways the visual language of this British TV series is the same, but Tati’s feature films know how to stimulate on many levels. A degree of snobbery in itself isn’t uncommon among Tati fans and critics, but even without too much psychological and philosophical digging it’s clear that his films are more than just a collection of funny scenes at risk after all these years dated and bland. to become.

In ‘Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot’, it is not just about Hulot but about all the guests in a French seaside resort that we follow from day to day and from morning to evening during their stay. Between this confluence of the 1950s civil peace and order, Tati lets go of his character Monsieur Hulot. Hulot makes his noisy entrance with a rattling muffler from two decades earlier and quickly disrupts the daily routine. He does his best to participate and be accepted, but apart from his clumsy behavior, we can already see from his whole attitude and movements that Hulot is at odds with his environment. With his long body, Hulot always seems to make a strange angle with the ground, the walls, the people and all kinds of objects. As if we are trying to combine two different images, but the proportions are not right.

In one scene, Hulot tries in vain to straighten two paintings, but every time one hangs correctly, he knocks the other out again. Hulot can easily be compared with such a crooked hanging painting: a disturbing presence that cannot be ignored. And precisely by wanting to do it right again and again, he only does it wrong again. As in the scene in which Hulot tries to give way to a woman crossing the road, but only when she has jumped back to the sidewalk in shock, Hulot still parks the car violently in front of her and then gestures obligingly to cross her.

As mentioned, the Hulot movies are not just about Hulot, but also about all those other people and their awkwardness, mannerisms, pleasures and frustrations. Tati has a keen eye for people but is never criticizing or punishing. It is as if Tati sympathetically realizes that the modern world is a strange place where everyone struggles to survive. A striking role is played by small children that Tati lovingly portrays, such as the scene in which we patiently follow a boy who has just bought two ice creams and is now on his way to his boyfriend. At the door it becomes equally difficult when he has to turn the door handle with the ice cream in his hand, but luckily the ball remains on the receiver and the ice cream eventually reaches the other boy, who in turn is observing a hotel employee. And of the two children, the subject now moves to this new character with new concerns. With a summer languor, Tati tells the story of a holiday in the fifties: innocent and a little dangerous, at least when Hulot is nearby. Note the scene where a couple playing tennis is shown from a distance and then Hulot’s car looms close to the camera. From Hulot we only see his hand on the steering wheel and then a loud bang from his exhaust. The peaceful game is over, anticipating “ace beast” Björn Borg, Hulot knocks his opponents off the field in one stroke.

In addition, ‘Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot’ is above all a strong stylistic film, although not yet as developed as in his later films, but Tati brilliantly uses the black and white image with his emphasis on contrast and lines. It is here that Tati is brilliant and proves why a film like ‘Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot’ with its brilliant introduction can easily make a summer dip disappear.

The film opens with a total shot from diagonally above of a station and three train tracks. We see a group of people from the stairwell appear on the middle platform, they suspect they are on the wrong platform and rush back down the stairs to the next platform. Much faster than possible (because this is a different group of actors) we see them coming up again on the front platform. But then the train seems to enter on another track, down again, they quickly appear on the back track (again a third group of actors) to finally see the train enter on the middle track. Note the snow-white platform that dominates most of the image and then the deep black train that enters the image. This is how beautiful cinema can be. Finally, find the Hulot in you.

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