M. Hulot’s Holiday

It’s M. Hulot’s breezy, absurd world, and we’re all part of it, in the sweet-tempered anarchy of the 1953 French comedy, M. Hulot’s Holiday, which played at the Michigan Theater on July 18, 2010 as part of its Summer Classic Film Series.

This gangly, well-intentioned but awkward tourist who seemed to set off all the slapstick mishaps at the French beach resort was played by Jacques Tati, who also directed the movie.

Everywhere you turned was an accident or a near-accident that was choreographed by Tati to get the maximum laughter. Many of the gags played off of our frustrated attempts to make our surroundings work for us.

M. Hulot’s Holiday played in the 200-seat Screening Room of the Michigan, and the often helpless laughter of the closely grouped audience was intensified by the superb acoustics of that auditorium.

After the movie ended, the friendly vibes of the atmosphere felt like a midsummer party. The good feelings continued out on the sun-washed streets of Ann Arbor, where you could see many signs of the upcoming July 21-24 art fair.

Observing all of this mayhem in M. Hulot’s Holiday was an elderly couple who peacefully strolled through the film, and to me felt like the audience’s representative in the movie. Similarly, a young, perfectly groomed, good-natured young woman gently maneuvered through the chaos.

The gentle, melancholy jazz theme captured both the heart and spontaneity of the film, which also played at the Detroit Film Theatre earlier this year. The “old movie” texture of the photography and soundtrack gave the movie a distant, dreamlike quality that almost made it feel like a memory taking shape. The rolling waves, the laughter on the beaches, and the all-too-human chaos made this a perfect satire of our desire for the perfect vacation.

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Copyright © 2010 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.

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