I've never really heard much about Jacques Tati, but really, that's what Criterion is for, to introduce viewers like myself to classic films that may not get the audience that they deserve. And, in what seems rare for Criterion, this film is actually a comedy - although one with not a great deal of plot (or dialogue, for that matter). In this case though, that's not a bad thing - not at all. "M. Hulot's Holiday" stars writer/director Jacques Tati as Monsieur Hulot, a tall, mainly silent man who gets into a great deal of trouble when he goes on vacation at a seaside resort, causing a great deal of trouble without even realizing it.
This is not an instance of appreciating the details of story or character, but appreciating the craftsmanship and wit that went into the seemingly hundreds of sight gags that can be seen throughout the picture, including a scene where Hulot is painting his boat - the brush gets washed out to sea, then comes back on the other side. Suddenly, the little boat floats out to sea, and let's just say the tourists on the beach get a little suprise as he tries to get control of the craft. Another scene has Hulot playing a record loudly, irritating the other guests. Rather than simply turn off the player, the owner comes in and cuts off the power, leaving Hulot to sit in the dark. There's also a great deal of sound use, even though the film is presented in mono. A door opening and closing makes a sound that's oddly comforting in its repetition and irritating at the same time, providing a pseudo soundtrack for scenes that take place in a restaurant.
I won't give away any more of the jokes and gags involved in "M. Hulot", but there are certainly a lot more I'd be able to discuss. The humor in the movie is a strong mix of two flavors of humor - the laugh-out-loud variety, and the smiling-to-yourself heavily variety. Tati has remarkable comedic timing, playing the character as if his effect on the world around him isn't happening. Not only that - the jokes come at such a rapid pace that some may pass viewers by until a second or third viewing. It's a hilarious little film and I'm glad that Criterion's fine new disc was my introduction to Tati.
"Hulot's Holiday" is not rated, but is PG-level material that everyone can enjoy.
VIDEO: This is a pretty impressive full-frame (original aspect ratio) transfer from Criterion, standing as one of their better efforts that I've seen recently. Sharpness and detail are generally very good, but at times great - for a film of its age. I found the depth to the image in some scenes to be remarkable.
Yes, the only flaw that I detected, as you might have expected, is that there is some evidence of age on the print used - some marks and scratches do pop up, but many scenes remain free and clear of such faults. There seemed to be some slight edge enhancement, which seemed unnecessary, but it was visible in a couple of scenes. Very minimal grain is present during a few sequences, but it's certainly not noticable or distracting. A fine effort, and restoration has apparently been performed.
SOUND: "Hulot's Holiday" is presented in mono French and mono English (which is a track created by Tati himself, according to the back of the box). As one would expect from mono anything, there's little to the proceedings, but the quality is above expectations from a film of this age. The audio is not particularly full or rich, but at least crisp and clean, not sounding "thin" or exhibiting any distortion. Tati's use of voices and sound effects comes through well here, sounding clear.
MENUS:: Basic, non-animated menus that use film-themed images.
EXTRAS:: A video introduction by Monty Python member director Terry Jones is included, as well as a funny Tati short called "Soigne ton Gauche". The booklet contains an essay and production notes. Criterion's usual catalog is also included.
Final Thoughts: "M. Hulot's Holiday" is a stellar comedy that I wish i would have learned about sooner. Criterion's new DVD provides good audio/video quality and a couple of small, but entertaining extras. Recommended.
The Film *** 1/2
Video 82/B = (328/400 possible points)
Audio: 80/B = (320/400 possible points)
Extras: 79/C+ = (237/300 possible points)
Menus: 70/C- = (140/200 possible points)
Value: 83/B = (249/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: *** 1/2
DVD GRADE: B-