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Wish You Were Here: En Vacances With Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot

M. Hulot’s Holiday

M. Hulot’s Holiday

Jacques Tati’s charming second full-length film, M. Hulot’s Holiday was the first to feature his lanky, mild-mannered, pipe-clutching Monsieur Hulot — a comic creation on par with Chaplin’s Little Tramp and Keaton’s deadpan hero. This literally leisurely comedy, set at a humble seaside resort, does not center only on the windswept Hulot, but rather what happens around him, viewed with Tati’s affectionately zoological eye: chattering clutches of card-players ruffled by open-door drafts, a grump chucking aside every seashell his wife excitedly hands him, Hulot helplessly drawn to save a precariously droopy ball of taffy. Movement and sound, both sharply delineated, are key to the elegantly discrete gags, avoiding the belabored “oh, this’ll be rich!” ripeness some associate with physical comedy. And Tati’s sweet punning (birdsong played over tennis players behind cage-like fences, a flat leafed-up tire mistaken for a funeral wreath) encourages the viewer to play along. An international hit in 1953, the film (presented here in a new 35mm restoration) earned Tati the freedom to elaborate his faintly surreal observed oddities into the full-screen design fest of Mon Oncle (1958) and then the “democratic” fish tank of the eye-boggling Playtime (1967). Throughout, Tati is a joy to watch, an artist in action: the rare tall comic, a stalking gait with a liquid lag, murmuring nonverbally but appreciated for his awkward gallantry. Between his innovations and his fun-poking present-tense nostalgia for the Normandy beachgoers, it is, as travel brochures like to say, a vacation to remember. (Nuart)