M. Hulot has impeccable manners for an agent of chaos. The creation and alter ego of beloved French director Jacques Tati, Hulot resembles a cross between an ostrich and a young Stephen Fry. Or perhaps a vintage New Yorker cartoon come to life, with angular elbows, oversized feet and an outthrust pipe perpetually intruding on other people.
In films such as M. Hulot's Holiday, Tati put a distinctive Gallic spin on silent-era slapstick stars like Buster Keaton, inspiring a new generation of masterful stumblebums such as Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau, Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean, and even the Kids in the Hall's Mr. Heavyfoot. But where Clouseau's pratfalls deflated his aggressive pomposity, and Mr. Bean acted out boyish mischief, Hulot remained the paragon of an innocent, well-meaning klutz capable of sowing confusion among French post-war complacency.
4 out of 5 stars. Directed by Jacques Tati. Stars Jacques Tati, Nathalie Pascaud. Not rated. Opens Fri., Feb. 5. At Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.
M. Hulot's Holiday introduced the character in 1953, although Tati tells us nearly everything we need to know about him before even showing him. As French urbanites flee the cities for the coastal beaches, Hulot putters along in a flatulent jalopy, with a horn like a quack and nonstop backfiring, his slow pace vexing his fellow vacationers. Holiday primarily takes place at a seaside hotel, where Hulot befuddles familiar French types, including a windbag war veteran, a fiery young Marxist, and a young blonde (Nathalie Pascaud) who titters at Hulot's awkward attempts at chivalry. Viewers will wonder whether Hulot will get the girl, in spite of his meek clumsiness.
(Photo courtesy Janus Film)
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