Summer film 6: Mr. Hulot’s holiday (1953)

Ah, if only all summer holidays could be like this. There isn’t much of a plot – Jacques Tati’s film is rather a series of beautifully choreographed sequences about the gentle anarchy created by the central figure in the sleepy French seaside resort. Tati came from a music hall background and he creates character through gestures and actions, instead of dialogue and facial expression. Mr. Hulot is something of an outsider with his pipe, hat and trousers that are too short. As Roger Ebert commented, people rarely seem to notice him except for the chaos he unwittingly leaves behind. Women and children instinctively love him though (with animals, it’s a mixed bag as you’ll see from the horse riding sequence and the dogs that pursue him). This isn’t a laugh out loud, slapstick comedy, although it is often very funny. The genius of many scenes comes from the balletic precision and timing – they’re deceptively simple but also amazingly inventive.

I must also mention the soundtrack which is think is very clever and really helps to create the special atmosphere of the film – the breaking of the waves, children playing, exasperated parents’ calling them, the constant ‘boing’ of the swing doors in the hotel restaurant, the vintage radio programmes, Mr. Hulot’s spluttering car and the cries of the ice cream seller. The smooth jazz tune contrasts nicely with the ‘Tiger rag’ which bursts out at full volume from Mr. Hulot’s room.

You get so used to seeing the same characters and places that it feels like a terrible wrench to leave them after just 80 minutes, as if the summer has suddenly come to an end. It has a charm and nostalgia that I have yet to encounter elsewhere.

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