Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Mr. Hulot's Holiday

Posted By on Wed, Jun 24, 2015 at 11:38 AM

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Mr. Hulot’s Holiday
(1953/1978; dir. Jacques Tati)—It’s finally summer time, which means it’s finally time for you ditch your job for a while and have a little fun in the sun. Yet in today’s entertainment- and distraction-crazed modern world, trying to have fun is often as spirit-trampling as several weekends’ worth of unpaid overtime. For far too many people, Gang of Four’s question remains unanswerable: “The problem of leisure/what to do for pleasure?”

Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, Jacques Tati’s take on the agonies of vacation, accurately diagnoses this condition. His film also offers some potential remedies—but he’d never dream of telling you which set pieces represent the problem and which ones represent the way out. Tati’s sweetly funny, discreetly melancholy second feature also introduces the heroically indifferent Mr. Hulot (played by Tati himself)—an inscrutable middle-aged Frenchman loved by children, tolerated by dogs and almost always out of step with the uptight, status-conscious, overly busy, overly bourgie adults around him. Hulot says maybe two dozen words during the film, but his tottering, stiff-legged physical comedy mirrors the sheepish timidity and brazen entitlement in foreign places that distinguish tourists from locals the world over. Mr. Hulot’s Holiday is also an epic of absent-mindedness and misunderstanding; it unfolds in a sunny climate but is aided by a steady drizzle of visual and auditory jokes that don’t register as jokes until you’ve watched the movie a half-dozen times. (One of my favorite gags relies on the Orion’s-belt symmetry of a phonograph record, the back of Hulot’s head, and a piano stool.) Just like your own vacation, it’s restorative and boring and aimless and overplanned and too long and not long enough.
Grade: A

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