Friday, 10 July 2009

Monsieur Hulot. H-U-L-O-T

No 218 - Les Vancances de Monsieur Hulot (Mr Hulot's Holiday)
Director - Jacques Tati

This was apparently the first film to unveil Mr Hulot, Jacques Tati's comedy alter ego and a sort of predecessor to Mr Bean.... However, this film didn't have a lot of the subtlety or excellent timing that Rowan Atkinson manages to squeeze out of his latter creation.

I have to say that I don't understand a lot of the older French Comedy. I found the slapstick in this was too crude, too basic, too obvious to be really funny, and I found the same when I saw another staple of French comedy - Les Bronzés. Although both of these films have their moments of comedy, the majority of it was too broad for me.
Saying that, more recent French films seem to really play the subtle and sarcastic humour that I love. Please don't take me to be dissing my Frenchie heritage... I may be L'Anglais by name but I still embrace my froggie half, just not their older comedies. However, L'auberge Espagnole, Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis and St Jacques la Mecque are all examples of how recently, the French have cracked really good comedies.

So with that disclaimer out the way, let me begin my blog.
The film follows a bunch of holiday makers at a beach somewhere. One of which is Mr Hulot and then some stuff happens. None of this stuff seems to be linked or have any kind of set up or explanation. Once you accept this and let the film run its course it becomes a lot easier to follow.

That may seem harsh, but I don't mean it in a derogatory way. There are some very good moments within the film. but no real connection. It is almost like the film is a beach themed sketch show. Some of the sketches (such as Mr Hulot painting his boat and then going rowing) are wonderful and subtle little moments. Whilst others seemed plainly odd, or - worst of all - not funny.
It is probably a worrying sign for my own personal state that the bits that I found really funny were the bits where people get hurt:
Somebody standing on a loose tow rope which then gets tightened laungching them into the air? Classic
Horse kicks a car casing the roof to cave in on the driver? I laughed

Inexplicitly appearing in a shed full of fireworks with a lit firework which then causes all the fireworks to go off? I was too confused by the absolute lack of set up. Mr Hulot just appeared there with a lit firework.

At times it almost seems that he is going out of his way to cause chaos, whereas the best slapstick comedy stems from ineptitude and a clever set up... not merely ineptitude.

The other thing that I didn't understand was the bizarre use of sound and language. Now everything had a weird sound effect tied to it - doors would 'boing' shut, the squeals of a tyre would sound like a child screaming. They were weird little touches that I liked, it tickled the nonsensical bit of my humour.

However there is also a bunch of English speaking holiday makers who appear to be there for no reason. In true 'Brits Abroad' stylee, they also refuse to speak French. Breaking up the (scarce) French dialogue with their posh English accents. They do seem to understand French though.... they're just being lazy. I suppose that is still the case these days with them there British, they just don't respect culture.

Jacques Tati's saving grace is that he has created a wonderfully naive and inept character, and maybe the humour develops over the films (this was the first of a series)... however, at this early point, there just isn't enough there to make a really funny film.


Anonymous said...

I'm very disappointed to read you didn't enjoy the film all that much Tim. It's one of my favourites, as is Tati's later film "Playtime" (which is far more subtle and detatched, almost like Kubrick directing Buster Keaton).

Anonymous said...

Those lazy English! It occurred to me when I was eating lunch at a restaurant in Geneva today that I actually can't bear to speak English when I'm on holiday in a French-speaking country, even if a waiter speaks English to me I reply in French and only resort to English if I absolutely have to, it's just too embarassing! My Dad on the other hand won't even stretch to a "bonjour" or "merci".

I adore French comedies, we watched a few back in French class and in my French film class. I love French originals of films that were remade by Hollywood, like Trois Hommes et un Couffin. Although mainly it's the comparison that I find hilarious.