Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday aka Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot is the first time we see the Jacques Tati touch in its purest form. Though Jour De Fete still counts as a Tati film, it still follows a plot and focuses on dialogue. With this film however, he does away with plot and natural dialogue in favour of observation and sound. In lesser hands, it would have turned this into boring work of pretentiousness. Fortunatly, this film is in the hands of a confident and bold filmmaker, who offers a beautiful portrait of average folks on vacation and a celebration of chaos in a world of order.
Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday takes place on a cozy little beach resort on the French countryside, where tourists come to enjoy a weekend of sun and fun. We see a wide variety of tourists arrive. First, there is Martine (Nathalie Pascaud), a beautiful single woman who attracts the eye of every young man around. And then there’s the wife (Marguerite Gerald) who wanders the beach with childlike excitement while her indifferent husband (Rene Lacourt) drags along.
And then, there’s Monsieur Hulot (Tati), a mild-mannered gentleman who arrives in a jalopy he can barely fit in. Like everyone who arrived there, M. Hulot comes for some R&R. But the moment he opens the front door and lets a gust of wind blow through the building, M. Hulot accidently disrupts one routine after another. This attracts the ire of the nosy waiter (Raymond Carl), who keeps watching for him. It all ends in a barrage of fireworks.
The film opening sets up the tone of the film perfectly. It begins with a beautiful scene of a quiet, peaceful beach, accompanied by a beautiful jazz score courtesy of composer Alain Romans. The music soon dies down so we can hear the waves. And then the film pulls cinematic whiplash by cutting to a loud and hectic train station, where crowds of tourists dash from one tunnel to another trying to get to their train. There is endless noise from the incoherent announcer to the whistle of a train. And then it cuts to another peaceful environment as M. Hulot drives across the French countryside. While the others are dash to the train, Hulot takes time to enjoy the scenery.
When I first saw the film, I was taken aback by Tati’s unusual style. I was used to comic actors making themselves the center of the movie when they also wrote and directed a film. Hulot’s barely in this movie. I would wait impatiently for him to return to screen. But after reading essays about him, I gained a better understanding of Tati’s method. Tati preferred to provide equal focus to multiple characters. Not until Robert Altman came along has a filmmaker juggled multiple characters with such grace. He brings many types of people you have probably met on holiday, from the father always calling his office from the lobby phone to outdoor backpackers who gather in a shack for pints of ale. 
What I also wasn’t used to was the lack of big laughs. I could tell these jokes were clever, but I couldn’t laugh no matter how hard I try. It wasn’t until I read Roger Ebert’s essay on the film that I gained a better understanding of Tati’s humor. Tati isn’t trying to get big laughs. He prefers mild amusements of everyday life. The problems Hulot causes aren’t so much havoc as they are minor inconveniences from accidently wiping his arm on someone’s face to leaving a trail of footprints across the floor.
I mentioned the film has no plot. Instead, it just lets the day play out and observes how the characters go through the day. Despite the lack of plot, the film still seems to have focus. I believe Tati uses routine and familiarity to give the film a flow. Each day always begins with a jazz score, followed by Martine opening her window. Then everyone gathers in the lobby, where people always sit around playing cards. Then characters does a particular activity. Then everyone gathers in the dining room. And then it sends with a shot of the resort, where some loud noise usually turns the lights on. It gives the audience focus, which makes it funnier when M. Hulot disrupts the routine.
It should be noted that the Criterion Collection DVD contains two versions: the original release and an English version. I find this English version particularly fascinating. It’s because only some of the characters are dubbed in English. Not only does Hulot still speaks French, but there are also some characters who also speaks Spanish and/or Italian. Adding to this is the fact that those who are dubbed in English are each given different accents. Some characters including the family are dubbed with American accents and others including the radio announcer are dubbed with English accents. This may sound blasphemous, but I prefer this version because it gives the film a more multicultural feel you get in European resorts like this. Plus, it adds to Tati’s theme of connection amongst strangers by having them overcome language barriers.
In the end, the resort closes down and everyone says goodbye to each other. Terry Jones cited this film as proof that comedy can be beautiful and now I can see why. Though they return to their personal lives, each tourist leaves with fond memories and personal connection. Hulot has been able to charm a few people. Even the grumpy middle aged husband invites Hulot to his home. And the film ends with an image of an empty beach, shot beautifully thanks to cinematographers Jacques Mercanton and Jean Mousselle. It wouldn’t surprise me if people went to that beach because of this film.
 As a tourist, I imagine I’m most like M. Hulot. I usually try to keep from bothering anybody, preferring to go in and out of a hotel unnoticed. But also like him, I always try to get involved in activities.
 In case you’re wondering, the film takes place at the Hotel de la Plage in Saint-Marc-sur-Mer (or Saint-Nazaire), France.