Mr. Hulot's Holiday (1953) directed by Jacques Tati
Oh boy. I was already getting a little nervous because I haven't really gotten behind the last couple classics I've watched, but now I am close to having an anxiety attack. I thought this film sucked. Yes, my usage of the word sucked goes to show my relatively young age, but I couldn't think of a better word to describe my feelings. Over two months in, this is the first movie that has given me such a negative reaction.
Mr. Hulot's Holiday opens with Mr. Hulot driving to his vacation spot by the sea in his broken down car. It sputters and stalls, stops and goes, ready to fall apart at any moment. I did not find this funny or amusing. He arrives to his hotel and opens the door which brings in a hellacious wind that blows things around. (You know how difficult it is to eat outside on a windy day.) The action on screen is quite chaotic and I will admit to it being well choreographed. However, none of the gags, such as the waiter clumsily spilling things, were remotely funny or amusing. And this is the problem with this film. It simply isn't funny. Many of the routines are stupid and repetitive. I barely laughed or even cracked a smile and I consider myself pretty easily amused.
Jacques Tati, who also directed, stars as the title character Mr. Hulot, a sort of missing link between the silent era comedians of Chaplin and Keaton and Mr. Bean. I love Chaplin, but I pretty much hate Mr. Bean. Well that's not entirely true, he can be pretty funny, but I typically dislike the bumbling idiot who gets himself into trouble routine. It is too obvious and gets extremely tiring and I don't think Tati as Hulot has nearly the same charisma or screen presence as Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean and certainly not Chaplin. (I haven't seen much of Keaton but I'm sure he's great.) However, that is not entirely the fault of Hulot the character. Tati purposely shoots himself at a distance in this film instead shifting the focus to the other vacationers and the gags on screen, which in itself is fine if only the other vacationers weren't nearly as unmemorable as Hulot himself.
The film is kind of a silent film. There is random bits of dialogue sprinkled throughout but it's treated as background noise like a squeaky door or the bouncing of a ball. So watching it as a silent film, naturally you become more engaged on the visual story. Okay, so there is no real story. It's just Hulot and the vacationers on vacation. To be more precise, it's just Hulot in a series of gags and slapstick comedy. Many of the routines are obvious and rather plain. For me, it was one failed attempt after another, but nope, I would not be tricked into smiling. To be fair, I don't think this film is intended to be side splitting, but most of the routines aren't even remotely amusing. There is, however, one exception that is legitimately funny. It is when Hulot is in his tiny boat which somehow snaps right in the middle and collapses onto itself creating a mess that resembles a giant shark's mouth. The other vacationers on the beach sees the shark and flee.
After giving up on its comedy, I did manage to find a couple interesting shots. Apparently Tati meticulously choreographed his scenes and it shows in one shot in particular. Hulot is sitting on his boat on the beach painting it. After he dips his brush into his paint can to paint, the can is swept away by waves only to reappear a couple seconds later on the other side of the boat, a very subtle but well executed moment. Perhaps my favorite moment of the film doesn't involve Hulot at all. A tiny little kid reaches over the ice cream man's push cart to give him a dollar to buy two cones. He takes the two cones, one in each hand, and carefully walks up the stairs making sure not to spill and goes inside to give to his brother. It's not a funny scene, but I did find it really charming and sweet.
I suppose that is Mr. Hulot's Holiday's biggest attribute. There is a sort of unspoken charm and sweetness to it. However, sentiment alone does not a film make. Again, I'm going to sound like some uncultured kid, but I found this film dull and pointless. I was bored and counting down the minutes to when it would end and this film is less than an hour and a half long. I've read the positive reviews of this film (100% on Rotten Tomatoes), particularly the one that Roger Ebert writes in his Great Movies. He brings up some interesting points and I'm glad that he brought up the same scenes that I mentioned meaning that maybe I'm not completely brain dead. However, I was baffled by his unadorned admiration for the film, not because I don't think he makes good or compelling points. I was baffled in how two people can see two completely different things in one movie, which I guess is the beauty of art, everyone will see different things in something.