Usually I don’t revisit directors so quickly, but I was left so intrigued by Playtime that I just had to try out another one of Jacques Tati’s films. Whilst not Tati’s first film Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot is the film that helped to give him a wide and international audience, which included an Oscar nomination for best screenplay.
One thing to note about this film is that there are a number of versions out there. When watching this I went for the director’s cut, which is shorter than the theatrical release and features different music. Interestingly, Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot is a film where Tati kept working on it for a long time after it came out. In a previous post I marvelled at how he was able direct so many people doing so many different things, I guess that this cutting and re-cutting is another example of his perfectionism.
Much like Playtime there is a loose story in Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot in that we spend a week with him as he goes on holiday. The whole film is centred around Mr. Hulot being a fish out of water during his seaside getaway. It takes a look at the many different types of French people who, thanks to the post-war capitalism boom, are now able to go on holidays. Of course the star of the show is Hulot himself, but many laughs are had with the hotel staff, self-important political philosophers and other recognisable archetypes.
As can be expected from Tati, this is a film where written dialogue is given the same importance as ambient noise and diegetic music. As such, the humour of Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot plays out through physical comedy and visual vignettes. Some of these, like the paint pot going in and out with the tide, are extraordinarily well-cordinated that you will laugh and marvel at how Tati was able to stage it so perfectly. Other pieces of comedy, like Hulot’s bullet like tennis serve, get their humour out of sheer absurdity.
What I really loved about this film was that it is a slice of life. There is no ‘getting the girl’ or ‘learning a lesson’, this is just about a man going on holiday and getting up to clumsy antics. Tati is excellent in his directorial and lead actor role and I am definitely becoming a bit of a fan (to the point that his complete works are now on my Amazon wish list).
With Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot , more than Playtime, this is a film that (after some updating) could work for a modern audience. I know that a lot of this comes from a very Charlie Chaplin place in term of comedy, but I have laughed out loud more in this film than all the Chaplin and Keaton films I have seen combined. It probably won’t be too long before I watch his third and final entry on the list…