The universe holds a special place in its starry heart for comedians.
And at the core of its deepest heart, you will find Jacques Tati.
Jacques Tati was a filmmaker and a comedic actor— at least that’s how his biography is phrased.
His real vocation was pointing a stylized lens at the baffling post-World War II world, then inserting his own stork-tall, childlike visage at the center of it.
His magic knows no boundaries of date or age or time.
I first saw Jacques Tati in M. Hulot’s debut film, “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday” (Les Vacances de M. Hulot — 1953), which I watched with my husband. (He saw the film as a child in a revival movie theater and loved it.)
Tati is most famous for his silent character, Mr. Hulot.
What amazed me then, and now, is the clean cut of Tati’s movie, combined with the frivolous gestures that moves the action along.
Nothing in particular happens during Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, but there’s no fat, no self-indulgent noodling around by Tati as Hulot.
Considering he also directed this film, it stuns me how tightly wrought the movie was, and is.
The undergarments of comedy are built of daily tragedies.
Hidden details of Jacques Tati’s life invoked new speculation in the last two years, due to the posthumous animated film “The Illusionist” (L’Illusionniste).
The recent film is based on a buried script penned by Tati, but made by animator/cinematographer, Sylvain Chomet (known for The Triplets of Belleville).
The release of “The Illusionist” brought up a lot of unsavory questions about Tati and his first romance— which resulted in a child he never saw.
Those old, resurfaced rumors intimate that this script was Tati’s apology to his first daughter, but it is, as many things are, utterly unverifiable.
I watched twenty minutes of The Illusionist and had to stop.
While Tati’s original films put a baffled man at the center of a baffling world, “The Illusionist” takes a darker turn. This animated feature puts an unnamed performer in a world that does not need him any more.
These days, I am not interested in the story of someone who no longer belongs to this world.
And if I am going to read, watch, or listen to the story of a man displaced by modernity, please show me the comedic moment— take me deeper into the truth inside the truth.
Laughter is keyed to open those hard locks. Give me laughter.
Give me Tati’s Mr. Hulot, trying and failing to understand the nuances of the fresh and unfamiliar.
Let me see his wide eyes once more, blinking wonderfully at a future filled with the bright gadgetry of distraction, and then, I will laugh.
And I think you will laugh too.
Mr. Hulot is familiar. Mr. Hulot? He is us.
PSST! I thought you might enjoy Roger Ebert’s original review of Mr. Hulot’s Holiday.