With the proviso that all ratings systems are useless, there is still no useful way of disputing that Jacques Tati made more than his fair share of the all-time top ten film comedies, and that he himself never made anything better than Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot, his near-silent beach-resort idyll of 1953. Those of us who were brought up on it know every sequence right down to the sound effects, which are often crucial, because although the film has almost no dialogue, there is a constant interchange between sound and action. Sometimes the sound provides the action, as when the “sproing” of the dining-room door is heard even when the door can’t be seen, and we know someone has come in or gone out. Every scene is built up out of precise effects and the picture as a whole is just as meticulously constructed, growing from episode to episode until the visually climactic fireworks extravaganza marks the beginning of the end. But everyone will come back next year, and M. Hulot might even get the girl. He is, after all, the most interesting man on the scene. At tennis, everyone else copies his winning serve, as if he knows a secret. Tati, playing the title role, is at the centre of a vision of heaven on earth beyond anything dreamed of by Jean Renoir in The Rules of the Game or Marcel Carné in Les Enfants du Paradis. The protagonists of those films have amour propre that can be injured. Hulot, with a lifetime history of everything going wrong, expects nothing but disaster, but still has his dignity. Admirers of Peter Sellers as Clouseau will here meet his progenitor, and in fact there is scarcely a sequence in the movie that has not been raided by subsequent film-makers: that popping motorcycle in Local Hero was kick-started by Tati. On YouTube there are enough clips from the film for the viewer to reassemble the whole thing. Favourite moment? Most fans go for the fireworks scene: the lavish economy of its order of events leaves even Buster Keaton looking slow on the draw. But for me nothing beats the moment when Hulot steps on the towrope and gets flung into the canal. It’s so neatly done that you don’t even see him take off.
Update October 2009 — Alas, some busy official decided that all my carefully chosen links to the ten different clips of the movie should be blocked, but you can still easily find every scene by dialling up YouTube and searching for "Mr Hulot’s Holiday", an exercise I recommend with a whole heart.
[ Update August 2020 — The “complete movie” posts are still being removed by YouTube almost as soon as hopeful users have uploaded them, but following Clive's suggestion I have located and here present a few representative and current-as-of-right-now YouTube clips, mostly from trailers, to illustrate Clive's comments. Some content is inevitably duplicated; all is incomplete. Go to the Comedy Finds player to view them — Archive Ed. ]