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Film / Mr. Hulot's Holiday

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Mr. Hulot's Holiday (or Les Vacances de M. Hulot) is a 1953 French comedy film written by, directed by, and starring Jacques Tati. It's largely a light-hearted physical comedy that pokes fun at the way people act while on holiday at a seaside hotel, with various character types and minimal dialogue.

The film is notable for the first appearance of Tati's trademark character, Monsieur Hulot, who went on to appear in three subsequent films. Hulot was a sympathetic everyman, a kind gentleman, but slightly shy, naive and bumbling, who tended to accidentally and unknowingly create chaos around himself. Along with being very tall and thin, he frequently had a recognizable hat, pipe, raincoat and umbrella, and walked with a strange gait.

The Hulot character would be one of the major inspirations behind Mr. Bean, The Illusionist (2010), and several Monty Python's Flying Circus sketches, with the Grand Finale of the former, Mr. Bean's Holiday, even being a loose remake of this film.

Mr. Hulot's Holiday provides examples of:

  • Accidental Athlete: Hulot manages to beat everyone at tennis by copying the odd swinging motion of the salesperson who sold him his racket. This results in several bruised egos.
  • Accidental Pervert: The businessman gets mistaken for being a Peeping Tom while he's bending over to take a photograph.
  • The Alleged Car: Hulot's rickety and underpowered car is an excellent example, with its explosive engine noises, parts falling off, ineffectual horn, strange seat adjustments, and constantly needing to be cranked, pushed or towed in order to start. (The car is real. It is a 1923 Salmson AL-3. See here.)
  • Angry Guard Dog: Dogs chase Hulot off someone's property. Taking shelter in a small, dark shed, he lights a match... only to discover he's surrounded by fireworks.
  • Binocular Shot: Used for a shot in which a man in the hotel spots Hulot, who is host on the water and has been swallowed up by the kayak that broke in two beneath him.
  • Blithe Spirit: Although Hulot doesn't break most of the characters out from their stuffy personal attitudes, he manages to make friends with the more relaxed and carefree ones.
  • The Captain: Parodied. The colonel stays in military mode during his holiday, from the way he walks, to constantly talking about his campaigns, to how he runs the group picnic.
  • Coincidental Accidental Disguise: Hulot gets mistaken for a shark by terrified bathers while trying to free himself from a collapsed folding kayak.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: A man named Jean and his wife are tossing a ball back and forth when Martine the gorgeous blonde strolls by in her swimsuit. The man turns and stares at her, letting the ball bounce by him into the surf. He keeps staring, even after his annoyed wife yells "Jean! Jean!".
  • A Dog Named "Dog": The hotel by the beach is called "Hotel de la Plage" which is French for "hotel by the beach".
  • Dresses the Same: Two women accidentally wear the same outfit for the picnic and immediately return to their rooms to change.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: Two young guys repeatedly try to ogle the blonde. Another guy on the beach becomes Distracted by the Sexy, much to his wife's irritation.
  • Fantastic Fireworks: Hulot inadvertently sets off an entire shedful trying to light his pipe.
  • Footprints of Muck: A muddy trail of footprints is left by Hulot while he avoids the hotel staff.
  • French Jerk: Many of the characters in this film. This is Justified mainly because they want to conduct their holiday that they originally planned for and in a specific way so they aren't willing to loosen up. In fact, one of the few people who are actively chatty and outgoing towards Mr. Hulot is the lone British tourist - a complete inversion of British Stuffiness.
  • Friendly Tickle Torture: At the funeral, the feather on an old woman's hat accidentally tickles several people.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: One of the major secondary characters in the film is a young blonde woman on holiday, who is kinder and more sympathetic than most of the other tourists.
  • Henpecked Husband: Downplayed. The wife of an elderly couple seems to be constantly leading her husband around on strolls, but when she keeps handing him seashells, he has no problem immediately throwing them back into the water. In the end it appears to be a good marriage, only he's incredibly soft-spoken.
  • It's a Costume Party, I Swear!: The hotel actually has a costume party, but the guests are too stuffy to participate and dress up, except for Hulot, the pretty blonde, and a boy.
  • The Jinx: One of Mr. Hulot's main characteristics in this film. He's not generally aware that he's the origin of it.
  • Letting the Air out of the Band: Hulot plays a raucously loud record in a side room. The other hotel guests, annoyed, flip off what appears to be a master power switch for the room, causing Hulot's record to coast to a stop.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Mr. Hulot's hat, pipe, and raincoat (not always worn), accentuated by his odd body language.
  • Loud of War: A record player gets turned on several times, playing a wild, up-tempo jazz tune extremely loudly, disturbing the other hotel patrons who are trying to have a quiet evening. In each instance, the music gets turned off abruptly.
  • Lovable Coward: When Hulot occasionally realizes what he’s done will upset others, his standard response is to hide.
  • Matchlight Danger Revelation: Hulot strikes a match inside a shed which turns out to be filled with fireworks.
  • Mistaken for Flatulence: A tire's innertube ends up covered with wet leaves, gets mistaken for a wreath, and is hung next to a funeral procession. It gradually and noisily loses its air, to the embarrassment of someone standing nearby.
  • Moody Mount: The horses not only get upset by the sight of Hulot's spurs, one of them starts to hunt him down.
  • Murphy's Bed: Done with a kayak. Hulot carelessly steps in the kayak and cracks it. Then when he takes it out on the water, it snaps completely in half and swallows him up. The kayak folds in two as Hulot flails around inside, creating what looks like big snapping jaws and making the beachgoers think there's a shark in the water.
  • Nice Guy: Monsieur Hulot is well-meaning and good-natured person. His kind soul and gentle nature makes him such a endearing and lovable character.
  • The Philosopher: One of the tourists appears to be a young Marxist intellectual who bores everyone by launching into long, one-sided discussions, when he's not reading books or newspapers.
  • Puppy-Dog Eyes: The young female hiker who gets Hulot to carry her enormous pack for her.
  • The Quiet One: Mr. Hulot doesn't talk much, and when he does, it's often not audible nor especially important.
  • Random Events Plot: This, and most of the other films by Jacques Tati.
  • Recurring Riff: One piece of music gets used repeatedly throughout the film.
  • Running Gag: Many, including Hulot's car, a large unattended glob of taffy, and the mannerisms of the various characters. On several nights, Hulot makes so much noise returning late to the hotel, everyone wakes up and turns on their lights. Except one night when he tries to go to bed early, but the chaos he's created downstairs prevents him from sleeping.
  • Service Sector Stereotypes: The hotel staff are all mildly surly.
  • Signature Sound Effect: The peculiar sound of the door to the hotel's dining room.
  • Silence is Golden: There is very little dialogue throughout the film, and even if you don't understand French, the situations and body language are pretty clear.
  • Solar-Powered Magnifying Glass: A kid on the beach uses a magnifying glass on the stomach of someone taking a nap.
  • Splash of Color: The film ends with a shot of the now-deserted beach, over which is superimposed a graphic of a bright red postmarked stamp.
  • Taxidermy Terror: One of Hulot's boot spurs accidentally gets caught on a fox rug. It follows him as he walks around the room, until he notices and briefly panics.
  • The Unintelligible: The loudspeaker at the train station.
  • Workaholic: Although the businessman is trying to have a quiet vacation with his family, he always responds immediately when he gets a business-related phone call. Arguably Married to the Job.