ClassicFlix (Teen Scene) – Review # 1: Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1953)

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From March 2015 to April 2017, I was writing the monthly Teen Scene column for the website ClassicFlix. My objective was to promote classic films among teenagers and young adults. Due to the instauration of a new version of the website, it’s now more difficult to access to the old version and read the reviews. But, I’m allowed to publish my reviews on my blog 30 days after they had been published on ClassicFlix! So, I decided to do so as you could have an easy access to them. If you are not a teenager, it doesn’t matter! I’m sure you can enjoy them just the same! My first review was for the 1953’s classic Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (Mr. Hulot’s Holiday) starring and directed by Jacques Tati. Enjoy!

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Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, or Les Vacances de M. Hulot in its original French, is the third Mr. Hulot film I’ve seen and is, without any doubt, my favorite. Jacques Tati directed this film in 1953 and it was the first of four movies starring the character of Mr. Hulot (played by Tati himself). The three other ones are Mon Oncle in 1958, Playtime in 1967 and Traffic in 1971. These burlesque films make us think of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton’s films. However, Mr. Hulot is very different and he really is one of a kind. Unlike Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin’s silent films, Jacques Tati’s films couldn’t exist without sound.

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Mr. Hulot’s Holiday tells the story of Mr. Hulot, a tall, clumsy man going to a beach in France for a summer holiday. With his noisy, old little car, his major (and unintentional) occupation will be to disturb the rich vacationers and break their routine through many funny situations. Because major criticism made by Jacques Tati through this film is what the point of taking a vacation is and relaxing if you can’t stop your routine? This aspect of the film brings us to one of the first things I love about this masterpiece: the music. Mr. Hulot’s Holiday’s score is one we could never forget. This music leads the film and it seems to be the only music in this world. When a day begins, nice, easy and relaxing music starts and we see the people on the beach having their daily occupations: the man doing his gymnastic, the lady taking her walk, always followed by her husband, the pretty Martine going out on her balcony to observe the beach, etc.

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This is not a silent film, but you’ll notice that, when people are talking, they are only saying ordinary things such as “Oh! Good morning, Missus! What a beautiful day!” or, when Mr. Hulot introduces himself, he only says “Hulot.” What’s special about these dialogues is the fact they are not clearly captured so they become less important and part of the background soundtrack.

Young people will appreciate this film for several reasons. They’ll love observing the little details that make this movie so unique. I think of the moment in the train station when we hear a speaker saying…saying what? Really, I don’t know, because we quickly notice that what we hear is nonsense. Is it French, English, German or just some random sounds? It’s a good tool to make someone laugh. One of my friends also told me she loved this film because Mr. Hulot “looks like a nobody.” I asked her to explain and she said: “Well, he looks very poor, but he can buy expensive holidays. It’s like the world upside down.” And she’s kind of right.

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Mr. Hulot, this tall man with a strange gait, is one of the funniest creations of the 7th Art and people like to laugh. Mr. Hulot is funny, but what’s also hilarious are the situations he unintentionally creates. One of my favorites is when he plays tennis. He doesn’t have good technique and plays very violently. He wins, but people complain about the way he plays. Martine is the only one who laughs and the arbitrator, an English lady, are the only ones who really like Mr. Hulot and are proud of him.

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In 1963, Jacques Tati created a new editing for his film and, in 1978, he came back to Saint-Marc-Sur-Mer (where the movie was shot) to shoot the famous kayak scene. Mr. Hulot is kayaking on the sea when, suddenly, the kayak breaks in two and people on the beach think it’s a sea monster or a shark. And yes, that is a reference to Jaws, directed in 1975 by Steven Spielberg.

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Mr. Hulot’s Holiday is a masterpiece of French comedy. It seems to be a very simple film, at first, with no real objective, but Jacques Tati was obsessed with details and perfection. It is surely a brilliant, entertaining and a timeless jewel of the silver screen. So, like Mr. Hulot, stop working and take a little cinematographic holiday, just to watch this film.

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