Filmmaker and actor Jacques Tati reinvented the art of slapstick comedy, expertly dissecting the nature of sight gags and pratfalls while exploiting viewer expectations to create an ambitious, richly detailed cinematic parlor game perfect for exploring the infinite mysteries of the modern world. Born Jacques Tatischeff October 9, 1908, in Le Pecq, France, he first gained notice as a professional rugby player before beginning his performing career in area music halls as a pantomimist and impersonator. Tati mounted his first film short, the comedy Oscar, Champion du Tennis, in 1931, but never saw the project through to its completion. His subsequent early work, including 1934's On Demande une Brute, 1935's Gai Dimanche, and 1936's Soigne ton Gauche, presaged his later features in their fascination with natural and mechanical sounds. The outbreak of World War II, which he spent stationed in the village of Sainte-Sévère-sur-Indre, brought Tati's career to a temporary halt, and after completing the 1938 short Retour à la terre, he did not appear before the camera again prior to Claude Autant-Lara's 1945 comedy Sylvie et le fantôme.
With his 1947 short L'Ecole de Facteurs, Tati created François the postman, a character he reprised in his feature-length directorial debut, 1949's Jour de Fete. The winner of Best Screenplay honors at the Venice Film Festival, Jour de Fete established the riffing gag formula which Tati continued to hone throughout his later features, again employing sound as a means of comic focus. However, Tati found the François character lacking, and began creating a new persona whom he dubbed Monsieur Hulot; a poker-faced cipher perennially clad in a crumpled raincoat, always with a pipe in his mouth and an umbrella in his hands, the perpetually irresolute character proved the unlikely and often unwitting catalyst behind Tati's ambitious gags. First appearing in 1953's Academy Award-nominated Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot, the persona became immensely popular, and remained Tati's alter ego for years to come. In Hulot, he found the perfect vehicle for his complex comedic designs. In a radical twist on conventional gag structure, the character toppled the first domino in the chain of events but then often disappeared from sight, allowing the full scope of Tati's Rube Goldberg-like comic processes to fully bloom without the distraction of a lone central character to distract audiences from the bigger picture.