A tribute to Jacques Tati’s classic comedy “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday,” “Holidays by the Sea” is a slender but chucklesome bit of whimsy from Gallic writer-director Pascal Rabate (“Wandering Streams”). With no significant dialogue, this fest-friendly mix of skillful physical playing, judicious comic timing and absurd situations, heightened by smart camerawork, editing and production design, follows a cross-section of French types and their relationships as their paths intersect during a weekend at the coast. The lack of a language barrier should facilitate further export.
First witnessed on their way to the shore, the characters include a retired couple, a pair of leather-clad punks, several families in a caravan park, a traveling salesman meeting his mistress, and two sets of unhappy spouses whose holiday is unexpectedly spiced up by a runaway kite. Besides sunbathing, the action embraces games of golf and Scrabble, life drawing, funeral rites, a visit to a nudist camp, a near-hurricane and plenty of erotic adventures.
Rabate, like compatriots Joann Sfar and Marjane Satrapi, comes from the world of graphic novels, and his sharp visual sense gives rise to numerous witty sight gags. Some depend on expanding the frame from a closeup to an establishing shot, while others are situationally inspired. With weather (particularly wind) and landscape (interior and exterior) proving as important as the characters, the jokes revolve around modes of transportation and accommodation as well as l’amour.
The strong ensemble cast, including internationally known faces Maria de Medeiros (“Pulp Fiction”) and Dominique Pinon (“Delicatessen”) make gesture, expression, silence and breathing as eloquent as any dialogue. Likewise, the precise and colorful tech package is everything it should be.