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New Wave: Jeff Reichert on “M. Hulot’s Holiday”

New Wave: Jeff Reichert on "M. Hulot's Holiday"

Few would label Jacques Tati’s gently winning 1953 summertime comedy of manners M. Hulot’s Holiday a manifesto, especially not in the face of his later films Mon oncle, Playtime, Trafic, and Parade, all of which more explicitly express the director’s core concerns about modernity and showcase his rigorous aesthetics. Yet in Hulot’s very first moments we can locate a strikingly nontraditional use of sound, employed so unusually that if the elements involved weren’t so recognizable and benign, the effect would be unsettling. As an image of waves breaking on an anonymous coast fades in to provide a backdrop for the film’s opening credits, a jazzy ditty from composer Alain Romain plays on the soundtrack. There’s nothing exceptional about nondiegetic music being used underneath opening credits, least of all this kind of welcoming, jaunty tune. We’re lulled and invited in—a movie is about to start, the tone is set on fun, until the song, as it approaches the completion of its melodic phrase, is abruptly interrupted by the crisp crash of a wave Foley, perfectly timed to match the picture. The score doesn’t fade out as the wave hits—it has disappeared. Read the rest of Jeff Reichert’s entry in the Reverse Shot Sounds Off symposium.

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