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Seen with ms_siobhan, planet_andy and big_daz at the Cottage Road cinema. IMDb page here.

Yup, it's another of the Cottage Road Classics. The evening of course began with the usual vintage adverts. We were informed that Shell has the power to lubricate, and that Bobbi perming solution would not give us kinky curls. We also got to see some gloriously 1970s adverts for Coke and shoes, the latter featuring Lulu in some cracking flares. And there was a Fairy liquid ad from the 1950s, featuring a young girl who wanted her mother's used Fairy bottles to play skittles with. That one hardly felt like a novel and exciting view into the past, though, since Fairy draw so much on their advertising back-catalogue anyway in a drive to create a sense of nostalgia and tradition around their product that we are still seeing scenes just like it on our TVs every day.

The film itself is a French comedy classic. Actually, I'd never heard of Monsieur Hulot before this showing came up, but apparently the character was a HUGE phenomenon in his day, with a whole series of films and a massive popular following. More recently, the films have provided direct inspiration for Mr. Bean, both in the sense of presenting a central character who is awkward and accident-prone, and in the sense that they have very little dialogue - mainly just gestures, facial expressions and occasional trivial chatter.

M. Hulot is definitely not the same as Mr. Bean, though - thank goodness, because I can't stand Mr. Bean. Where Mr. Bean is creepy, childish and mean-spirited, M. Hulot manages to seem quite sweet and well-meaning even while he is also gauche and absent-minded. I've never felt the slightest scrap of sympathy for Mr. Bean - only an urgent desire to change channel or, failing that, leave the room. But though M. Hulot certainly does things which are annoying (like inadvertently setting off an entire shed-full of fireworks while everyone else is trying to sleep), he does also at least try to be polite and gentlemanly and thoughtful. He even turns out to be unexpectedly good at tennis - not because he has any real skill, but because he faithfully mimics some rather odd racket movements demonstrated to him by the lady in the tennis shop, and they turn out to be a winning formula. By the end of the film, quite a few of his fellow vacationers have had enough of him, mainly because of the fireworks. But others bid him fond and enthusiastic farewells, in terms which suggest that they've secretly rather enjoyed his little antics.

The film has no plot as such, which is why dialogue isn't really necessary. But it more than makes up for that in characterisation. It comes across as an extended bout of high-quality people-watching, interspersed with idyllic shots of a French seaside town and overlain with lilting summery music. We simply follow M. Hulot and his fellow holiday-makers about their day to day business, dropping in and out of people's conversations, picking up on their funny little quirks, and then shifting our attention onwards. The little boys playing naughty tricks on the beach, the bossy mother, the pretentious intellectual, the young woman in search of romance, the jolly English tennis coach, the bored restaurateur, the military veteran reliving his greatest moments. They're all lovingly sketched out and beautifully played off against one another.

It's a tradition at the Cottage to round off classic film nights by playing the national anthem and projecting a picture of the Queen (or occasionally one of her predecessors) onto the screen. In deference to our French cousins, though, this time we had the Marseillaise and a picture of the Arc de Triomphe instead! And then it was out into the evening air (and a huge cloud of dandelion-seeds) to walk home, laughing once again over all our favourite moments. The moment when he got a stuffed fox stuck on his riding-boot; the moment when he was flipped into the harbour by a tow-rope; the deflating tyre at the funeral; the man who dropped his pen in a fish-tank, carefully rolled up one sleeve but then accidentally stuck the other arm in to retrieve it; the paint tin washed in and out by the tide; and so on and so forth. Not the sort of comedy I usually think of myself as liking - but somehow here done just right.

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( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 27th, 2010 09:39 pm (UTC)
It was such a top feel good film and laugh out loud funny :-)

Not sure I can cope with West Side Story but Mr Pops is very excited about Lawrence of Arabia. If we do go and see Lawrence I'm booking pullmans as it is about 17 hours long.....that is a slight exaggeration but it will feel like that.
May. 28th, 2010 07:15 am (UTC)
Luckily I feel much the same as you about West Side Story, and much the same as Mr Pops about Lawrence of Arabia! So I'm sure we can come to some arrangement there. :-) You're probably right about the Pullman seats, though!
May. 28th, 2010 04:03 am (UTC)
I nominate the deflating wreath as the funniest thing in the cinema ever.

Tati was a perfectionist, so he didn't actually make that many films. I think there are perhaps four or five that feature the Hulot character.
May. 28th, 2010 08:40 am (UTC)
It's a strong candidate! And yes, Tati must have been perfectionist, because the deflating wreath shouldn't be that funny - but the way he presents it in context means it is.

We were dying to know how the floating paint-can was even done - patience and good luck? A magnet? A string? We couldn't spot the trick, whatever it was.
May. 28th, 2010 06:32 am (UTC)
How lovely to find someone else who loathes Mr Bean!
May. 28th, 2010 08:43 am (UTC)
I actually Googled "mr bean hate" last night while writing this entry to see if I was the only one. In fact, it seems we're far from alone. I get that he is supposed to be repugnant, and that that is part of the comedy - but somehow it goes beyond a joke for me. I could handle an eternity on a desert island with Basil Fawlty, or indeed Blackadder. But not Mr. Bean.
May. 28th, 2010 09:17 am (UTC)
Atkinson was a year ahead of me at Oxford and his appearance in the ETC review of '76, which was a prototype Mr Bean, had London critics coming up and the Oxford playhouse rocking. I sat there wondering what everyone else was laughing at. I assumed I was the only one!
May. 28th, 2010 08:25 am (UTC)
I thought it was excellent- I think I need to seek out some of his other films.

I was having a look at the filming location on Google Streetview afterwards and the Hotel is still there but the boarding house isn't. There's a new promenade on the seafront with a statue of M. Hulot looking out to sea though.

May. 28th, 2010 08:44 am (UTC)
Ooh, good idea - I'll have to check it out myself. That's sweet about the statue. :-)
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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