Movie Review: Watching 'The Man In The Hat' Sans Subtitles Is Actually Okay
I’m going to do something now that basically no one should ever do, which is to say I’m going to review a movie I technically haven’t seen all of. It’s not what it sounds like—I saw every second from beginning to end. But there were a few stretches of dialogue, in French, that didn’t have subtitles that were supposed to, and despite trying every setting and menu and sub-menu I could find, I couldn’t turn them on.
But the way this all played out says a lot about the movie to me, and the sort of charming magic it has. It’s called The Man in the Hat, and it has just the tiniest breath of a plot, set into motion when our titular man, sitting at a café table in his small French town, sees a group of rough-looking men dump what very clearly seems to be a human body into some nearby water. They see him seeing them, and so he runs, gets in his car, and drives away.
But this isn’t a chase movie-- or, not exactly. And it’s certainly not a suspense. Rather, it’s a sweet, curious, sometimes funny, sometimes sad trip through the strangeness of life. Our man drives through the French countryside and meets people, people that prove to us again and again that we’re all so very odd, but, for the most part, pretty nice. Most of the film is wordless-- our man doesn’t say more than three words in the whole film—with just enough Jacques Tati to obviously be inspired by that great French filmmaker, but not enough to be trying to imitate him. Our man is played by the Northern Irish actor Ciaran Hinds, who has such a powerful face and presence that he’s already been Julius Caesar and Game of Thrones’ “King-Beyond-The-Wall,” Mance Rayder, but who here shows just how beautifully, quietly expressive that face can be as he simply moves with the winds of life.
That we’re always just short of understanding what’s happening is one of the movie’s delights rather than a frustration—why does our man carry a photo of a woman who looks like a young Teri Hatcher? Wait, is that Teri Hatcher? Is that dog the dog from earlier? No, I mean from earlier earlier? Is he actually driving somewhere, or just sort of going around in circles? Who is this man, anyway, and who is he missing? There are answers, but we’ll never know them, and somehow this is just fine. Some things we know in this world, and some we don’t, but there’s still so much to love.
And so, yes, those subtitles. I didn’t know, in the moment, whether there were even supposed to be any. Other than those few sections, almost no one says anything, and so at the time, it seemed perfectly plausible that we just wouldn’t have a translation. This would just be one more thing that we almost knew, but didn’t, unless our French is better than toddler-level, which mine is not. And I felt pretty good about that. I was wrong, it turns out—the subtitles are supposed to be there, but somehow it hardly matters. I even spoke to another critic who couldn’t entirely remember whether they’d been there or not when she saw the movie. And so, this little mistake worked perfectly for The Man in the Hat, a movie that skates just above the surface of our full comprehension in the way life often does, leaving us with that little smile we get when we know that we’ll never really know, and sometimes, that’s ok.