Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot

Nathalie Pascaud and Jacques Tati in Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot [M. Hulot's Holiday] (dir. Jacques Tati, 1953).

This film is often characterized as plotless, which isn't exactly true. It's storyless, certainly, but there's plenty of plot: the entirety of the film is a perfectly shaped series of linked emotional experiences, with its flawless transitions between successive intensifications of lyrical-pastoral slapstick vignettery. The culmination is the climactic sequence in which M. Hulot shoots off a shed full of fireworks, waking everyone at the seaside resort except for the lovely Martine, who in one brief shot lies angelically in her bed, her slumbering body lit up by the flashes of skyrockets through her window. This anarchic carnival of explosions retroactively transforms the serenity of every scene before it, and Martine's imperturbable peace, in turn, tempers this transformation, preserving the meticulous orchestration of balances and counterbalances that takes what is at base no more than a mobile arrangement of trifles and makes it feel like a profound philosophical sonata.

Included on the Criterion DVD: René Clément's 1936 short Soigne ton gauche, featuring Tati as a young farmhand who consults a how-to manual during his first boxing match.

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