on 29 January 2009
Jacques Tati is one of the great comedian/directors, but he was an impossible perfectionist in his movie-making, and died bankrupt as a result. He lost the rights to his movies in the wake of the ruinous folly that is "Playtime", and since his death the bones have been picked over for profit by a variety of people. As one reviewer points out, the British Film Institute misses out scenes, while I've seen the Japanese DVD which has completely irrelevant sub-titles. If you are offered something billed as the 1977 version, don't buy it, it's chopped around. And there's no cheap easy way into Tati, as all his films retail at £12-£15, even assuming they're available.
Many people don't "get" Tati, frustrated by his lack of plot, and episodes which don't seem to go anywhere. But those who complain about his lack of skill as a film-maker are probably watching a duff version.
Certainly "Les Vacances" has only the plot of a fortnight's holiday, but that's enough to give the film a rhythm, each day started with the catchy clarinet tune and the opening of the window to look at the sea. (The only day which doesn't have the tune is the last, when everyone is sad to be going home.) Like holidays, the days seem to merge into each other, punctuated only by special Treats like the picnic, the fireworks, the Costume Ball. Some events, like some gags, lead nowhere, other jokes are recurring.
What makes Tati great seems to me threefold. First, unlike so many comics, he isn't a one-trick pony. He spreads his gags around all the characters, who are fully rounded and believable people. Most of them we know little of - like we know little about the people we happen to share a hotel or a beach with. But we know enough to know who we like and don't like, who are the sticklers and who are the quiet rebels.
Second, he has a wonderful eye for composition. The tiny two-hotel village is perfect, and every shot looks good. More than this, there's always something happening in the corner of a frame, which maybe you don't spot first time round. This feeds into his sense of rhythm. He knows how to compose a joke, and it's not obvious how he does it. I know trying to describe comedy immediately kills it, so I won't say too much, but in addition to the physical comedy, a lot of the jokes work through the editing, and he comes at the laughs sideways, so they come at you slightly off-centre, when you're not expecting them. This quality is what suffers most in the bastardised versions around.
Finally, there's the quality of his sense of humour, which is in the absurdity of the everyday. One of my favourite sequences involves a small boy (Tati is always good with children) buying two ice creams and taking them back to his friend. There's nothing to it, except a camera following him as he climbs an impossibly high flight of stairs and opens a door, carefully watching the ices; but anyone who isn't mesmerised, charmed and appalled at the same time isn't quite all there as a human being. It's this quality which gives the movie its depth and flavour, coupled with a gentle but real morality which is on the side of the chaotic, and those who like the chaotic.
People go on about Tati as a slapstick, but to me that's the least of his qualities. "M Hulot's Holiday" isn't just about a holiday, it IS a holiday, and we feel the same regret at the end as we do when our holiday comes to an end.
If there was any justice in the world and any true appreciation of cinema and its history, some philanthropic soul would buy up the rights to Tati's films, restore them to the state the Director intended, and release the five key works - "Jour de Fete", "M Hulot", "Mon Oncle", "Playtime" and "Traffic" - in a £25 box set. Maybe then Tati would be appreciated for the unique talent he is. Is it too much to hope for?
on 19 November 2004
This is one of the funniest films I have ever seen. Owing much to Chaplin and - to a lesser extent - Buster Keaton and Will Hay, Tati's creation is a bumbling bringer of mayhem who remains oblivious to the chaos he creates around him. As the title suggests, the film follows M. Hulot on his seaside holiday. Each scene is brilliantly executed and masterfully played to squeeze every last comic drop from every situation. Less pacy than Chaplin or Keaton, but no less funny, highlights include the wonderfully choreographed table tennis scene and the closing firework extravaganza. This is an almost totally silent film (the few words which are spoken are in English) which demonstrates the truly universal flavour of physical and visual comedy. M. Hulot is undoubtedly the precursor of such comic creations as Frank Spencer and Mr Bean: as is often the case, those who came after are pale imitations.
on 15 January 2008
The best thing-this is the original FRENCH print. Not a bad idea, because many Gallic nuances went out the window when the background radio prigrammes were dubbed into an Ersatz Third Programme and the archetypical can't-relax-for-a-moment businessman who's ALWAYS wanted on the phone becomes Herr Schmidt and not the transatlantic Mr Smith!
The full, original soundtrack is also here-or at least a serial number of varations of Alain Roman's theme are-that WAS the original soundtrack! Who cares-it's such a lovely tune, in total keeping with the entire ambience of the movie.
M. Hulot also almost manages to charm the lovely young French lady in the movie. No mean feat, considering he's the living incarnation of how ex-President Gerald Ford was described 20+ years later-unable to chew gum & fart at the same time; using the phrase"accident-prone" about M.Hulot is the understatement of the last millenia & possibly of this one,too!
You also have the strange feeling that every one of the fellow holiday-makers, or the staff at L'Hotel Du Plage, will think back, in the coming winter, to their quinzieme en vacance avec M Hulot. And you also know, every one of them will be wishing, secretly or openly, that they'll soon both be hearing the sewing-machine-on-wheels and also seeing the hen-house-on-wheels as M. Hulot's 1924 Amilcar hoves into view next summer!
I won't bother detailing how the movie evolves. It's just unlike any other, even other Jacques Tati's. Let me just assure you it's not only the best film ever made, it's also still screamingly funny throughout & remains so after many,many viewings!
on 1 December 2002
The one drawback in this film, as currently available, is that the superb original 1953 soundtrack, with its totally appropriate background by Aimé Barelli and his orchestra, a dreamy slow-foxtrot, is replaced in the 1960s remake by a quite inappropriate, jumpety, higgledy music which is completely at odds with the 1953 original.
on 28 May 2003
The innocence of a single french man on holiday is what this film is all about. Tati is (or was) without doubt the greatest minimalist comic of all time. Only he can make painting a boat an absolute riot, only he can make a very sombre funeral into a timeless classic of comedy history. This man is one of the unsung heroes of comedy and if he was not the inspiration behind Mr Bean then 'je suis un oncle des singe' (bad french I know).
The absolute tragedy is that all of Tati's films are so difficult (closer to impossible) to get on DVD, Laurel and Hardy = no problem, Charlie Chaplin = no problem, Jacques Tati = BIG PROBLEM, This is a great film, this is a classic (as are all his films. Let's get em out on DVD. Even my Dutch girlfriend, who claims that she is not a fan of comedy films, laughs at this film, let's get it on DVD....
There is no plot to this film, we just follow the adventures of Mr Hulot on a short holiday to a Breton seaside resort in the immediate post-war years. He is joined there, for what is best described as a fictional fly on the wall doucmentary, by exactly the sort of disparate crowd that you would expect to meet on such a holiday.
Almost bereft of dialogue and filmed in black and white, we see Hulot involved in a series of adventures and misadventures. In a way, the film is like an early fifties version of Mr Bean but Hulot's reaction to every mishap is a Gallic shrug and a happy disposition which always rubs off on those around him.
Thu humour is a mixture of surreal, slapstick and irony and, despite the relaxed atmosphere of the film, there is always something happenning. There is no moment without some visual or audio gag somewhere. Despite this relentless stream, there is great balance in the film. You never feel that there is too much of something or that a certain point has been pushed too far. Great comedy always needs that kind of restraint and flawless timing.
This is the first and certainly the best of the Mr Hulot films. The later ones never recaptured the same sense of innocent whimsy. This film stands out as one of the funniest movies ever made.