Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot

Jacques Tati, France, 1953, Carlotta Films


An unexpected firework wakes the residents of a small seaside hotel. It signals the arrival of the accident prone Monsieur Hulot, who the hotel owners quickly identify as the trouble maker who has caused this. The sleepy holidaymakers decide, as if on automatic pilot, to leave their rooms and head for the hotel lounge. Brought to life by some invisible device, they almost instantly slot into their destinations, attitudes and habits which they’ve appropriated in the days previous. Lights come on, the record player plays, and it’s only their pyjamas that illustrate the incongruity of the situation – a sun lounge come to life in the middle of the night. The wee community carries on as if before, each going about their individual activities, while Monsieur Hulot struggles, unable to control the situation. He seems to have shattered time apart with his clumsiness. It’s the end of the holidays, and this final blunder seems to allow the joys of holiday to carry on unexpectedly. They’re set to leave tomorrow. A series of long takes with precise composition act as mini-sketches, bringing the rituals of leaving a holiday resort to life. The children are pulled away from the beach with difficulty, huddled in their city clothing, they make their last sand castles, dragging their heels as the leave the beach. The adults for their part indulge in the farewell rituals of holiday and promise to meet in Paris, or here again the following year. The hotel’s front lobby suddenly becomes crowded and a place to struggle to get through, the last frontier before the return to normal life and the breaking up of this little community. Between the two is Hulot, who, with his big gangly body and way of being, is in contrast to these time-honoured rituals of separation. The film was shot at a time when seaside holidays were something of an institution. It captures the family seaside resort just as it freezes and becomes a cliché. It is replete with the archetypes and signs associate with a holiday resort – a lifebuoy, a boat, an ice cream truck, the ponies on the beach – all vacant at this, the moment of departure, just waiting, ready to welcome the next wave of holiday makers.