Mr Hulot' Holiday by Jacques Tati

In the mid -19th century, Saint-Nazaire became a very fashionable seaside resort with the arrival of the railway in 1867. Little by little, this summery reputation faded until only Saint Marc and the nearby headland remained popular, made famous on film in "Mr Hulot's Holiday" by Jacques Tati.

After the triumph of "Jour de Fête", which won the Grand Prix of French cinema in 1949, Jacques Tati set out to depict "the simple life, the holiday atmosphere" at Saint Marc and Saint-Nazaire. When he arrived with his crew in June 1951, the inhabitants little realised that they were to become the stars of a work which would travel right round the world.

Tati had discovered Saint-Marc on a postcard, on which he found almost all the ingredients he needed: the sea, the headland, the rocks, the beach, the hotel and the children's holiday clubs. The set designer invented anything missing. To the local press who asked him about the subject of his film, Tati replied: "I will be depicting a general theme. My wish is that the ordinary person paying his 150 Francs to see the film should enjoy an hour's holiday."

There will be no stars in my film

The professional actors can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The others were recruited by Tati from the local population. "I am working with unknowns, young people who love their job and I am sure we will produce some good work," he said when he introduced his team. So, we see a fisherman whipping up some marshmallow, a holidaymaker (a real one) scanning the ocean with binoculars and a young girl from Saint-Marc playing the wife of a businessman who is constantly being called to the telephone.

Festivals and an artistic atmosphere

In mid-August, Saint-Marc holds its local festival. Tati's troupe performed a music hall number as the prologue to an open air showing of "Jour de Fête" and the next day, coincidentally, François Blancho, the Mayor of Saint-Nazaire, laid the foundation stone for the little resort's future cinema. It was an enjoyable time. The filming, scheduled to last two months, took until the end of October. In the evenings, at the famous Hôtel de la Plage, the crew and actors consoled themselves for the boss's outbursts of temper and the bad weather by playing practical jokes and dancing. This 'arty' atmosphere took over the hotel, to the consternation of its proprietor, Claudius Bernard, who worried that the regulars would find it too noisy, having come there (or so they thought) to have a quiet holiday!

Schoolchildren take over from holidaymakers

By mid-October, the beach was deserted, the tourists gone. Never mind! The new actors would be local schoolchildren, who could hardly have hoped for a better start to the school year. Two jeeps waited for them at the end of school to take them to the beach. The parents were flattered, but the teachers had a little trouble controlling their classes.

When the film crew finally packed up to go it left a great hole, as Saint Marc had lived at its pace for four months. Jacques Tati would return to Saint-Nazaire in 1978 to film a brief sequence styled after "Jaws", for the American version of "Holiday".