Jacques Tati is often among the names of the greatest directors of all time, even with his directorial career spanning a scant six films. At the risk of viewing too much of the same material all in a row, I’ve decided to delve into the work of this man (who has three films on the list) with a Jacques Tati-a-thon. I’ll be going in chronological order, so we’ll start with the film that introduced Tati’s signature comic character to the world, Mr. Hulot’s Holiday.
The opening credits, in particular the music, immediately sets the mood, comic and freewheeling, with a cavalier sense of mischief. Tati’s films aren’t concerned with plots and narratives as much as they are with comic setups and spontaneous moments of humorous serendipity. He debuts this fashion of filmmaking here, and it would be a star-making vehicle for Tati as both a director and actor, with his Monsieur Hulot making his debut with this film. Tati’s sense of mise en scene is spot on, so much so that several moments that seem to be lacking in direct humor appear to be in the film just for Tati to show off. But the humorous segments are the real bread & butter of the film; Tati didn’t necessarily go for blatant laugh-out-loud humor, but instead opts for amusing and humorous moments that more than anything make us smile in recognition and jovial spirit than actually chuckle, though a few chuckles are likely to be had.
Tati takes many cues from Chaplin and like comedians in the formation of his character and his various quirks and characterizations; from the visual humor of the pipe and hat to the physical motions of his facial expressions and manner of movement, Mr. Hulot quickly becomes the iconic character of the film, and it is no wonder that Tati would develop him into a sequential character for his films to follow. The unbelievable sense of awkwardness and charm that is so pervasive through this film is what makes it entertaining, but it is a flavor of pie that must be anticipated and adjusted to; you can’t go into this film expecting your average comedy, or you’ll walk away shaking your head in disbelief. Of course, you very well may still do so, but with a big smile on your face, content with having spent some of your time in Tati’s weird sense of a world.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10