The Man in the Hat

Peter Malone MSC 14 May 2021

A light comedy-drama as a Man in the Hat journeys through France in a Fiat 500 accompanied by a framed photograph of an unknown woman. He is pursued by five angry men in a Citroën Dyane. Why are they chasing him? And how can he shake them off?

THE MAN IN THE HAT, UK, 2020, light comedy drama. Starring Ciaran Hinds, Stephen Dillane, Sasha Hails, Maiwenn, Muna Otaru. Directed by John Paul Davidson, Stephen Warbeck. 95 minutes. Rated PG (Mild themes and sexual references).

Jacques Tati’s name came to mind frequently while watching The Man in the Hat. [And then the rush to include his name in a review so that this response would be original rather than suggested by other reviewers! And, then checking the bloggers on the IMDb, there were, in fact, four who named Tati.] Two other names came to mind while watching, Elia Sulieman and the adventures of the eccentric characters in his film, and a touch of Wes Anderson. (Other bloggers did not name these two but came up with Chaplin, Keaton, Bunuel.) So, the aim of this paragraph is to indicate to lovers of arthouse movies, small-budget independent films, why they might enjoy this one.

And the question arises: have you have dreamed of getting in a car, leaving from Marseille, driving through the French countryside, back roads across rivers and bridges, into the hills, out into the fields, up into the mountains and the small villages? Well, this film offers something of an opportunity as we sit in our chairs and live the trip vicariously. We are in the company of a central character who has not been given a name except The Man in the Hat, played by veteran Irish actor Ciaran Hinds. We really know nothing about him though there are various suggestions, touches of flashback, imagination.

Actually, there is a bit of a panic about his trip into the mountains, with The Man in the Hat having witnessed a group of rather sinister-looking men throwing what looks like a wrapped body into the water. And, they keep turning up on the roads, in cafes, in garages, which keeps the Man in the Hat busily moving on.

As with Tati, the storytelling is in mime and performance, body language, rather than words (the Man in the Hat utters two or three throughout the whole film). The words are mainly overheard conversations and stories. Tati always was a touch awkward in his manner and bearing, the Man in the Hat is less stiff but nonetheless often awkward.

And entertainment is also in the range of people he meets in the mountains – an attractive woman on a bike, a character named in the credits as The Damp Man who seemed to this reviewer The Forlorn Man, and he looked a bit like Stephen Dillane (and, in the credits, so he was). He has quite a story, sitting under a bridge, getting wet, on a park bench, in a restaurant and feeling suicidal, encounter with a jolly chef… And a number of incidental characters, including some traffic wardens who spend the time measuring roads, heights, gaps, with a tape measure (and gradually getting closer to each other).

The opposite of a blockbuster, co-written and directed by John Paul Davidson (who has a long career with television) and Oscar-winning composer, Stephen Warbeck, who also contributes a frequently jaunty score for this entertainment.

Limelight Pictures
Release 13 May

Peter Malone MSC is an associate Jesuit Media