Criterion Collection Review: M. Hulot’s Holiday (1953)

The Criterion Collection is a prestigious list of movies that display a sort of excellence in some cinematic way (whether it’s plot, impact, cinematography or other characteristics). These films can be found at a local video seller, or on Netflix/Hulu Plus interchangeably. We here at The Pick and the Pen will be reviewing films from the expansive list as we see them. If you have a request for a review, please let us know!


M. Hulot's Holiday

Jacques Tati (“Hulot”) and Nathalie Pascaud (“Martine”) in M. HULOT’S HOLIDAY. Picture courtesy of Janus Films.

Dressed as a pirate, the tall Monsieur Hulot awkwardly steps around the beautiful Martine. Their hands link together and they shuffle about the empty dance floor, only after Hulot cranks up the volume of the record player. As they playfully dance together, the patrons of the hotel watch the couple, some taking extra glances with big grins. But how could you not be happy watching them? Despite the awkwardness, the couple contains such charm that grace doesn’t have to be a priority.

M. Hulot’s Holiday (1953), directed and starring French comedian Jacques Tati, follows the clumsy Monsieur Hulot (Tati) as he takes his summer vacation in the French seaside. He goes boating, plays tennis, dances with a pretty lady, and attempts to be the perfect gentleman, even though he is constantly under watch by the rest of the villagers. It’s a playful slapstick that not only sheds light to the talent of Tati but also provides a humorous look at what a typical summer holiday entails.

For me, M. Hulot’s Holiday is one of the first choice movies I pick when I need a good chuckle. Without much dialogue, the film carries itself on the performances of its actors. Hulot is the center focus, and his clumsiness, much like that of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton, carries the story without too much extra effort. For example, there is a scene where Hulot is trying to be a gentleman and carry in a rather large suitcase for the lead female, and of course the bag is too big for his eyesight so he misses the fact that a second suitcase is at the top of the stairs. He basically trips all the way through the house, out the door, and around the corner before running back around and setting the suitcase inside. This film is full of these small, slapstick gems – from overpowering over-hand tennis shots to a kayak mishap that leads the vacationers to believe that he is a shark – and each moment is worthy of a smile at the very least.

For most people, a French 50s comedy is one to just pass by and give up to watch something more mainstream. But with Tati, his characters draw you in from the beginning – even the random vacationers around Hulot are entertaining enough to make me enjoy this film. The hotel manager is constantly watching over his patrons, so deadpan and serious about keeping his hotel in shape… let alone the fact that he looks like he’s falling apart at the seams. Then there’s the cute old couple, where the woman is so much more interested in the scenery around her than her husband, who carefully looks at the artifacts she picks up and then tosses them over his shoulder. Every part of every character is important, even in a slapstick like this, and that just shows how dedicated Jacques Tati is to his art… nothing goes to waste.

What really brings this film together, though, is its heart. Tati as Hulot is just so charming, despite his clumsiness, and it’s obvious that the other characters feel his energy and respond accordingly. There’s never a down moment in the film, and without a central antagonist the whole film keeps up an optimistic pace that is difficult to obtain in a 50s comedy. Before you know it, the movie ends with such a sweet note it makes you want to start it right over again.

So if you’re looking for a sweet comedy that keeps you warm on the insides, I highly recommend giving M. Hulot’s Holiday a shot. He will not disappoint – although he may trip over your feet!


Available on DVD and HuluPlus.


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