Movie Review: Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1953, France)

With the imminent arrival of summer (if it’s not already here for all intents and purposes), various movie review/ranking and pop culture websites dust off their lists of the “Best Vacation Movies of All Time”. And without fail, almost all of them overlook the one that really does deserve to head the list. Sadly, Les Vacances des Monsieur Hulot (“Mr. Hulot’s Holiday”) suffers from being both a foreign movie and over sixty years old.

Played by director Jacques Tati, Mr. Hulot is a tall, gangly gentleman with an omnipresent pipe. In the movie, he drives his 1924 Amlicar to a little seaside resort. While there, amusing things happen. At the end of the week, he goes home. Not much to speak of, right?

But really, who wants Grand Drama or Epic Adventure on a vacation? You want to relax and unwind! Soak up the sun, maybe mess about in a boat for a while, or simply just get away from the stresses of everyday life. Your biggest problem should be on the order of finding a partner for a game of tennis!

In that vein, the humor is all slow and relaxed. Warm chuckles instead of loud guffaws. There’s no malice involved in any of it; no one is ever hurt by anything, just discomfited, and then not for very long. The humor is all visual, by the way. There’s almost no dialogue. You won’t even need the subtitles or dubbing. Many of the vignettes must have taken a great deal of work to set up, like when Mr. Hulot is waiting for his date, and is constantly bumping and nudging the paintings and knick-knacks in the room.

A few other things are worth noting. Hulot isn’t always the center of the viewer’s attention. The other guests at the resort get their own scenes. And there are no close-ups in the movie. Why would you stick your nose into someone else’s vacation?

Rowan Atkinson has said that Hulot is a major influence on his “Mr. Bean” character. It’s obvious; both are generally well-meaning individuals who seem to unwittingly cause humorous disruptions for the people around them.

This movie is one that pleasantly lingers with you, and can easily be rewatched. I understand that in Europe (or at least France in the 1950s) when people go on vacation it’s usually to the same place at the same time of year. After a while of meeting and making friends with your fellow vacationers, you start looking forward to meeting them next year. Go along with Mr. Hulot on his vacation. Make friends with everyone, and you will soon look forward to seeing them again.

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