French director/actor Jacques Tati’s biography states that he was born in 1907 and died in 1982, but the truth is Tati was a man immune to time. His films were comical critiques of contemporary French life, and he played characters who were constantly at odds with the modern world. As Monsieur Hulot, his most memorable character, Tati directed and starred in four films during the fifties and sixties which took a humorous, yet biting look at the progressive spirit which had proliferated throughout Post-war France. With films like Mon Oncle and Play Time, Tati explored the role of the individual within the increasingly modern world of mid-century Paris. As Monsieur Hulot he battled technology, and the steady drumbeat of progress as if to say, “wait a minute, what about me?”
This existential struggle resonated with audiences both in France and abroad, particularly because Tati’s films relied upon humor, rather than solemnity to get their message across. Tati crafted Hulot as a madcap character that would immediately stand out from his sterile surroundings, to ensure that all eyeballs were upon him. Amidst the sharp lines and swirling atmosphere of Paris, stood Monsieur Hulot, dressed in his signature tan overcoat, worn-in trilby, and ever-so-slightly cropped trousers. With each stylized step, as he puffed on his ever-present pipe, Hulot appears immune to the machines and masses which whirl on around him. As this exaggerated character, Tati reminded his audiences that they still have the ability to stand out in the post-war world even, or rather especially, if they dress a little funny.