As a mere boy, I bumped into Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle on television — and didn’t like it. Many years later, I saw part of his Traffic — and didn’t like it. With that, I wrote off Tati’s work as something just not for me.
And it was with that in mind that I faced seeing M. Hulot’s Holiday (from 1953) for the first time. But a miracle seems to have occurred: Somewhere in the intervening years, either Tati had gotten better, or my tastes had changed remarkably (owing to the age of this film alone, it has to have been the latter). Whatever the case, M. Hulot’s Holiday is an unalloyed delight of a movie! It’s rarely hysterically funny, but it is constantly charming.
There’s really no plot: Tati as M. Hulot (who would become his recurring character) arrives at a seaside resort and proceeds to accidentally cause no end of trouble, despite the best of intentions. That’s about all there is to it, but there needn’t be any more. Tati barely speaks; he doesn’t need to. No one but Chaplin was ever so physically expressive with so little apparent effort. Indeed, there are several moments in the film that are worthy of Chaplin. But Tati is a more generous artist, and often gives his movies over to the other players.
This is a glorious work — visually sumptuous and shot in absolutely shimmering black-and-white, which gives the French coastal town great appeal. A true comedy masterpiece that’s not to be missed.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke
[Peter Loewer’s French-comedy film series will screen M. Hulot’s Holiday on Monday, Sept. 27, in Pack Memorial Library’s Lord Auditorium. Loewer will introduce the film, beginning at 6 p.m.]