Tuesday, March 15, 2011

DVD: M Hulot's Holiday -- March 15, 2011

I received the Criterion Collection DVD of Jacques Tati's M. Hulot's Holiday for Christmas. I had only seen it in a poor print on television. The images were beautiful and the sound was as clear as Tati intended it to be. The recurring piece of music brought back memories of summers that I have never even experienced.

The film starts with the people of France heading out for their August holiday. Some people ride trains, others zip along in fancy autos. One person, whom we don't see right away, is driving a rickety little car that makes all sorts of curious noises. The only glimpse we have of the driver is when he stops to pet a dog who had been sleeping in the middle of the road through a village.

The auto arrives at the beach along with the other vacationers. The driver proves to be a gangly man with a pipe. In the lobby of a hotel, vacationers read, do work, or just sit around separately. The driver opens the door and returns to the car to get his bags. The wind blows around everyone's papers. This is our introduction to Tati's character, Monsieur Hulot. In a conventional story, the powerful wind would represent a new spirit entering the lives of the vacationers. In a Tati movie, it is not that simple. After he lopes into the room, bows to everyone, is ignored, and registers at the desk, everything settles back to normal.

M. Hulot's Holiday has many features of a silent comedy, but sound is a critical element of the movie. There is dialog, but it is never important to the story, since there is not a story. Most of the time it is another background noise. Some sounds are apparently never noticed by the characters, like the oomph noice made by the swinging door to the dining room.

Many things happen, a pretty girl arrives, Hulot tries to go horseback riding with her, they are the only ones who dance at a masked ball while almost everyone else listens to a depressing speech on the radio, but it all leads nowhere. At the end, Hulot can't even get to say goodbye to her. It all reminds me of the long summers when I was a kid, even though we never went to a place like this.

The disc includes a 1936 short, "Soigne ton gauche" by René Clément, which stars Tati as a farm worker who daydreams about being a great athlete. When a boxer knocks out his two sparring partners, Tati joins him in the ring, trying to read a "How to Box" book.

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