It’s surprising just how charming the adventures of Monsieur Hulot can be. A bumbling French man making his way around his home country doesn’t sound all that entertaining, but his antics abroad and in his native country make for some tremendous adventures. Someone finding themselves in over their head, but not maliciously or vehemently, not in any way causing a drama with consequence or an impact that could be portrayed in a negative light. Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday is a charming little film directed by and starring Jacques Tati, one of the few directors who were able to fashion out a niche in making completely engaging, yet relatively harmless films that depend on the visual gags and interesting set pieces.
That much was true for Playtime, his later film in the loosely connected Hulot series, but the film that started it all is nearly as enjoyable as his later, more refined efforts. Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday is as simple as the title would suggest. We follow Mr Hulot on his holiday, and the various antics he finds himself accidentally stumbling across, all splashed with an undertone of romance that never overwhelms the more primitive, basic idea of the film. Comedy is at the heart of this one the whole way through, but it’s impressive to see that story is never sacrificed for a cheap gag or a pot shot at one of the background characters.
Moments like those are frequent, but their reliance on storytelling to get us to those visual gags and witty lines of dialogue are much appreciated. Cheapening the quality of the film would be rather easy, but the few that do feel that way are reserved for the opening, the bits and pieces that don’t involve Tati’s superb performance as Hulot are a mixed bag. Still, those moments are forgivable for when they build up Hulot so well. Tati plays Hulot with such conviction to the role, though, understanding that comedy is the goal and nothing more than that. We never really learn all that much about the character, aside from that he’s on his holiday and he may be the most awkward man alive. He’s a bit like Mr Bean but instead of a stuffed teddy bear he carries with him an inability to articulate basic motor functions.
A wholly great film, one that is filled to the brim with laugh out loud moments, and its short running time makes it a lovely little interlude for a long day. Charming from beginning to end, but with a few forgivable jokes that fall flat, this makes the perfect starting point for those unsure about whether they’ll enjoy the style Tati presents.