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Les Vacances de M. Hulot

September 5, 2010

264. Les Vacances de M. Hulot (Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday)
Monsieur HulotDirected by Jacques Tati
France, 1953

IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Ally
Umpteenth visit


A diverse group of holidaymakers spend their summer at a beach resort, largely neglecting to interact with one another. Lovably inept Monsieur Hulot (Jacques Tati) inadvertently wreaks his endearing brand of chaos.

Essential Scene:

The guests are gathered in the hotel social room. Two groups are playing card games at adjacent tables, while others are scattered around the room chatting quietly or reading. The peace is disrupted by Monsieur Hulot playing table tennis. When the ball is lost among the guests’ tables, Hulot tries to retrieve it. First he tips forward a woman in a rocking chair, allowing her opponents a sly glance at her cards. Then, in one fell swoop, he disrupts both card games at once.

A moustachioed man in a swivel chair is about to play his hand. Hulot rotates the man to face the other card game. He triumphantly throws down his card, but is turned back to his own game before anyone notices. The man collects his winnings, leaving his opponents stunned at his apparent audacity. Meanwhile, the two men at the second table are baffled by the mysterious appearance of a new card. Fights break out at both tables, one of which culminates in the moustachioed man receiving a brisk slap to the face. Damn those swivel chairs!


Les Vacances de M. Hulot is one of my favourite films to revisit, like going back every summer to a favourite seaside resort. Jacques Tati’s humour is reminiscent of the great silent comedians, incorporating the inventiveness of Buster Keaton and the sentimentality of Charlie Chaplin, whilst avoiding Chaplin’s mawkish tendencies.

The film is composed mainly of long and medium shots, allowing bits of shtick to hide away in the corners waiting to be discovered. This style was developed in Tati’s later films, Mon Oncle and Play Time, both of which I also heartily recommend.

Reviewed by Rachel
Second full viewing

Essential scene:

Bear with me here…

Monsieur Hulot is on the beach. He sits in a small boat which has a chair and a paint can inside it.

He decides to paint the chair and places the paint can on the sand. The tide takes the paint can away but every time he wants to put the brush into the can, the tide brings it back, so he is none the wiser. He gives up on painting the chair and places both the chair and the paint can on the sand.

The tide takes them away again, but this time brings them back to the other side of the boat. In his confusion at this, Hulot walks towards the chair and paint can and steps in the middle of the boat, which emits a rather painful cracking sound.

Oblivious to the boat damage, Hulot happily puts it on the water and begins to drift.

The boat suddenly caves in and traps Hulot inside. When he tries to get out, the sides of the boat appear to open and close. The crowd on the beach, thinking this snapping boat is actually a shark, scream and run away.


Jacques Tati broke a lot of rules. His films have no plot, no leading cast (aside from Tati himself), no strict character development and very little dialogue. The result is the feeling that you’re watching the comic absurdity of life unfold before your eyes.

I’ve always thought that everyday life itself is slapstick. You walk into a door, you catch one thing while dropping another, you try to find your glasses while wearing them. Tati saw the potential for subtle visual gags incorporated into an everyday occurrence or setting, such as a holiday resort. The whole resort becomes his stage. The result is what feels like a magical work of non-fiction.

Another thing that’s refreshing about Tati is his attitude towards being a leading man. He doesn’t care that he’s not onscreen for ten minutes, he will give brilliant visual gags to a group of extras because that’s what it takes for it to look realistic.

The joy of Tati is perhaps how re-watchable he is. He packs so much into one frame that you can’t possibly catch it all in one viewing. My advice is wait until you are fully willing to watch Les Vacances, then watch very carefully. It’s worth it, trust me!

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