Once in a while a film comes along that is indefinable and irresistible. The Man in the Hat is one such film.
The strange pairing of travelogue director John-Paul Davidson ( Brazil with Michael Palin; Stephen Fry in America), and film composer Stephen Warbeck was always going to result in something different. Davidson and Warbeck have co-written and co-directed this feature, both putting their stamp on it.
Ciarán Hinds stars as the eponymous Man, travelling around the south of France in a Fiat 500, a photo of a woman on the seat next to him. After witnessing the aftermath of a possible crime, he is pursued by an old Citroën full of seemingly angry men. In Tatiesque style, he tries to outrun the men, whilst encountering a wealth of eccentric characters, including The Damp Man, played by the wonderful Stephen Dillane, and the delightful French trope of the beautiful enigmatic woman-on-a-bike, played by talented actor Maïwenn. And like much of Tati’s work, there is hardly any dialogue. Hinds himself says about four words for the entire film.
Full of whimsy and charm, The Man in the Hat is travelogue-cum-love-letter to the South of France. Filmed in the areas of Marseilles, Le Vigan and the Camargue, Davidson’s TV experience is writ large. Some of the best mise en scène cinematography you will ever see is delivered by Kaname Onoyama.
Although not pretending to be in another time (we see the odd Smart TV, for example), the use of classic cars, and concentration on older, “unspoilt” parts of France give the film a deliberate timelessness, which just adds to the whimsy.
Along with Davidson’s arm-chair travel expertise, Warbeck brings his musical knowledge. At times we have the classic French soundtrack; at others, the music takes centre-screen: Nadine Lee performs with her band in the village square; a trio joins The Man in his Fiat to sing a song of love and loss. The choice of songs is broad and quirky, just adding one more gorgeous patch to this beautiful quilt.
At its heart, The Man in the Hat is an allegory of life: a journey to find something you think you want, during which you find things you didn’t know you needed. Yet it never drags, or becomes overtly philosophical. Instead, its manifest charms wash over you, leaving an indelible impression.
This is a film that gets under your skin.
The Man in the Hat opens on May 13th.