by Shubhajit Lahiri
Though not as universally popular as Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp, master French filmmaker Jacques Tati’s creation Monsieur Hulot too remains an unforgettable character where slapstick comedy goes. Mr. Hulot’s Holiday introduced cinephiles to the friendly and polite, albeit bumbling, socially awkward and accident-prone everyman and the eponymous character of the film.
When Mr. Hulot visits a pleasant French countryside retreat for vacation, it is inevitable that mishaps will occur, and they form the basis for the immense enjoyment that the movie provides. Never one to indulge in over-dramatisation or racous fun, Tati filled the film with hilarious gags that make you laugh through their brilliant ideation, wit, subtle gestures and unadulterated humour – the brilliance of imagination and execution certainly ensured that the viewers would roll on the floor with laughter.
The sequence which introduced us, and the unfortunate hotel guests, to Hulot, and the one where he decides to display his tennis skills, are acts of pure genius and parts of cinematic folklore. In fact, the movie is filled with a multitude of moments that would stay with the viewers, including even something as mundane as the opening and closing of a door!
The film has very little in terms of dialogues; consequently it is more akin to the pure entertainment of silent era comedies which had to rely solely on audio-visual interplay. Tati was equally memorable as an actor, as he himself played the perennially pipe-smoking, unwittingly clumsy and thoroughly indelible protagonist of this astounding masterpiece.
Tati would go on to make three more films featuring Monsieur Hulot – Mon Oncle, Playtime (each better than the preceding film), and Traffic. It would be worthwhile to note that, the Hulot series had its beginning, albeit indirectly, in Tati’s debut film itself – the charming Jour De Fete.
Note: Shubhajit sent me an e mail apologizing for not being able at this very busy time for him to pen a longer review. I don’t personally feel that length is ever an issue, especially since he has consistently mastered the art of the capsule.
How M. Hulot’s Holiday made the Top 100:
#5 Marilyn Ferdinand