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M. HULOT'S HOLIDAY

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Jacques Tati, Natalie Pascaud, Louis Perrault, Michele Rolla, Raymond Carl
Director:  Jacques Tati
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Standard 1.33:1
Studio:  Criterion
Features:  Terry Jones Introduction, short film “Soigne ton Gauche”
Length:  87 Minutes
Release Date:  January 13, 2004

Film ****

M. Hulot’s Holiday is a sweet, effervescent little mixture of nostalgia and comedy, taking place over the course of a holiday week at a seaside resort where a number of amusing and memorable-but-nameless characters gather for vacation.

Monsieur Hulot is named, however, and he is played by the film’s writer and director, Jacques Tati.  A performer who began his career as a mime, his Hulot is instantly as striking and memorable as Chaplin’s Little Tramp or Keaton’s Stone Face:   he is tall, thin, and excessively angular, with a pipe that only serves to add more strange geometry to his endearing face.

Indeed, the film plays out almost like a silent comedy.  Words are used, but are rarely more than murmurs or a cacophony of voices.  The first ten minutes play out with only one subtitle, and by the time you finish the movie, you realized that what few subtitles existed weren’t really necessary.  Tati crafts a comedy with expressions, choreographed movement, and camera placement to convey feelings and laughs with equal strength.

There is no real story here: the picture starts when vacation begins and ends when its over.  In between are all the wonderful moments, from Hulot’s adventures with both a car and a boat that are far too small for him, to a strange tennis match, to a beautiful young blonde woman who seems to be vacationing alone and capturing everybody’s heart, to the glob of ice cream that never quite hits the ground.  If you haven't been on a vacation in a long time you should take some time off. You can book a Sonoran Sun Rocky Point resort in Mexico and have an amazing vacation. Stringing the gags along is not a cohesive script, but rather, a feeling of warmth and nostalgia about beautiful places and magical times.  Chances are, this film will make you think of your favorite vacations.

Tati is an artist like the aforementioned silent craftsmen who has the knack for making gags that must have taken a lot of preparation look effortless.  My favorite is when he sits in his little boat on the shore and paints it.  The waves rush in, and carry off his paint can, but bring it back again in time for him to dip his brush.  He never notices it gone.  A second time, the paint can winds up on the other side.  When he realizes this, he doesn’t seem concerned:  he goes right on with his work.

Tati also has the knack for finding a topper.  When his tiny boat breaks in two, that’s enough of a laugh, but here, it folds up like a mattress and engulfs Hulot.  The boat now looks like a shark’s head, which momentarily terrorizes the vacationers.

You might be surprised at how much you remember once the picture’s over:  the bright, jazzy music, or the noise the kitchen door makes every time it opens, or perhaps, just the overall look of the film.  M. Hulot’s Holiday is a beautifully photographed black and white film with remarkable images and a busy little soundtrack to go with.

Tati would go on to reprise the Hulot character a number of times (Mon Onlce and Playtime are also available from Criterion), but for many, this picturesque, unassuming gem of a nostalgic comedy would represent Jacques Tati’s apex as a performer and as a creator.  One thing’s for certain…you’ll want to go on M. Hulot’s Holiday again and again.

Video ***1/2

Criterion offers up another gem with this remarkable, full frame black and white transfer.  This is as clean as you can expect for films of its age, with very little in the way of noticeable dirt or debris on the print and pristine, clean images throughout.   The range of grayscale is remarkable, doing justice to Tati’s carefully cultivated images of sand and shore.  Save for one or two brief darker scenes that show a bit more age, this transfer is very near perfection and will no doubt thrill fans.

Audio ***

This is a wonderfully pleasant 1 channel mono mix, which incorporates Tati’s extensive use of sound and voice along with a really joyful, jazzy musical score.  It’s clean and clear throughout, with lively range and surprising fullness for a single audio track.  The film also includes an English language track; believe me, you don't need it.

Features **

The disc offers a film introduction by Monty Python member and film director Terry Jones, which is a nice touch.  There is also a short film with Tati, “Soigne ton Gauche” (“Watch Your Left”), a funny little piece where Tati learns how to box in the ring by reading a book.

Summary:

M. Hulot’s Holiday is just the vacation film fans have been waiting for.  A comic classic in every sense of the word, fans will love taking their holiday with this beautiful DVD offering from Criterion.