Monsieur Hulot's holiday is over

Jacques Tati may be dead, but his greatest creation is returning with a starring role at Cannes and a new animated adventure.

One of the greatest icons of cinema history – tall, trilby-wearing, pipe-smoking, bumbling and melancholy – is about to resume work, 27 years after the death of his creator, Jacques Tati.

An exhibition and film season which opened in Paris this week launches what could amount to a Tati, and Hulot, revival in 2009.

The classic 1953 movie Les Vacances de M. Hulot (Monsieur Hulot's holiday) – on many lists of the funniest films ever made – will be a star attraction at the Cannes film festival next month. The explosive impact of the well-meaning, umbrella-wielding M. Hulot on a quiet, seaside town in Brittany will live again, digitally restored by Hollywood technicians to modern cinema standards.

The implausibly slanting walk and jutting pipe of Jacques Tati will also be seen in a completely new film later this year – albeit in animated form. A cartoon movie, based on an old, unused Tati screenplay, with a Hulot-type character in the lead role, will appear in the autumn.

Other Hulot events include the re-creation of the set of another classic Tati movie, Mon Oncle, which won the Oscar for best foreign film 50 years ago. The futuristic, but maddeningly inefficient, house and garden which are the centrepiece of the film have been rebuilt in life size and can be visited in Paris until November.

A permanent Tati museum is also about to open in Saint-Sévère-sur-Indre, the village where the mime comedian, actor and film director made his first full-length movie, Jour de Fête, in 1947.

Why the sudden Hulot revival? The curators of an excellent Tati exhibition at the Cinémathèque in Paris joke that it is 102 years since the film-maker's birth: the imperfect, perfect moment to celebrate the centenary of a character who specialised in making clumsy, abrupt entr-ances in his own movies.

"In truth, several things have come together," said one of the exhibition's curators, the cinema critic, writer and Tati expert, Stéphane Goudet. "There is the forthcoming cartoon movie, based on a Jacques Tati screenplay (The Man with the White Rabbit, due out in the autumn). There is the half-century since Tati's Oscar for Mon Oncle. But there is also the growing interest in Tati as a very modern film director, someone who is studied and admired by cutting-edge directors like Wes Anderson and David Lynch."

In a short essay for the catalogue to the Paris exhibition on Tati's life and career, Anderson (The Darjeeling Limited; The Royal Tenenbaums) says that Tati, as actor and comedian, stands comparison with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. "He has a silhouette that you can make into a cartoon; just his walk is a great creation," he says.

As for Jacques Tati's importance as a film-maker, both Anderson and David Lynch (Twin Peaks; The Elephant Man) point to his unconventional and pioneering use of sound. This may seem surprising. There is hardly any dialogue in Tati movies. Much of his humour seems to be visual, based on elaborately devised gags developed from his early days as a stage comedian and mime artist. (Tati was also, as a young man, a talented professional rugby player, a second row forward for Racing Club de Paris in the French first division.)

Anderson says Tati's elusive use of snatches of half-heard conversation and the repetition of strange or suggestive noises were decades ahead of their time. Lynch points out that a large part of the humour and oddly melancholy atmosphere of Monsieur Hulot or Mon Oncle are created by soundtracks that audiences scarcely notice. Jacques Tatischeff was born into a Franco-Russian family in Paris in 1907. His mother was of Dutch origin, something which, he claimed, shaped his meticulous approach to comedy. "It is almost impossible to make the Dutch laugh," he once said.

He began his career as a comedian by performing sketches at rugby club dinners. He went on to become a mime artist in the Parisian music hall in the 1930s. He spent the war hiding with a group of friends in a village in central France and returned there in 1947 to make his first movie, Jour de Fête.

The film tells the story of a country postman who tries to adapt his bicycle delivery round to "efficient" American methods. It introduces the themes which dominate Tati's six, surviving movies: the desperate, or over-optimistic, but always comic efforts of mankind to cope with empowering, but belittling, modern devices, buildings and lifestyles.

Serge Toubiana, the head of the Paris Cinémathèque (the equivalent to the National Film Theatre in London) says that there is a natural progression in Tati's films from the mocked but adored countryside, to the stifling dullness of suburbs to the crushing inhumanity of mega-cities and roads (in Playtime and Trafic). "His work represents the great migration of people and objects from the countryside to the city, from the ancient world to the modern world," Toubiana said.

The curators of the exhibition at the Paris Cinémathèque have tried to recreate the experience of a Tati film. The show is a maze in which you are amused, or assaulted, by exhibits ranging from garish neon signs to Tati's jumbled film notebooks. These suggest that the smallest gag from Les Vacances de M. Hulot – such as the kayak which terrorises bathers by folding accidentally in two to resemble a shark – were minutely choreographed by Tati.

The exhibition also has some advance rushes in black and white from the animated movie, based on a Tati script, which will appear later this year. L'homme au Lapin Blanc (The man with the white rabbit) is the story of a hopeless magician, a kind of Gallic Tommy Cooper. It is being made, partially in Scotland, by the French director Sylvain Chomet, who made the globally successful film about the Tour de France, The Triplets of Belleville, in 2003. Judging by the extracts on show, the film will be a return to earlier, more playful Tati style of Monsieur Hulot's Holidays.

As Lynch points out in his contribution to the exhibition catalogue, Tati the satirist of modernity finally fell victim himself to techno-addiction. His darker, later films – especially Playtime – made use of all the gadgetry and the grandiose sets of the modern cinema. The movie cost a fortune and flopped.

Lynch says that Tati, at his best, was "extremely modern ... a blend of innocence and technical invention".

"He has a unique sense of humour," Lynch says. "He can zoom in on the absurdity of life without losing his love for human beings."

The exhibition and festival of Tati films at the Paris Cinémathèque runs until 2 August.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury


Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas


Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7


Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary


Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions