In most of the films he directed, Jacques Tati [1908-1982] played the role of a comic character called Monsieur Hulot. This pipe-smoking eccentric, constantly attired in a gabardine raincoat and hat, was modeled upon a real individual: an architect who rebuilt Saint-Malo after the bombing of Normandy.
Today, the architect’s grandson, 55-year-old Nicolas Hulot, is rapidly becoming one of France’s most-celebrated personalities: not merely the familiar and talented producer of the spectacular Ushuaïa TV series on the wonders of the natural world, but now the leader of a dynamic program aimed at promoting ecological awareness in political spheres.
During my recent visit to Australia, I was surprised to discover that, whereas most people recall Commandant Jacques-Yves Cousteau [1910-1997], nobody seems to have heard of Nicolas Hulot, or seen his extraordinary TV work... which nevertheless exists now on DVD. Hulot is Cousteau in overdrive: an exponential power shift. If Cousteau were to be likened to a basic automobile, Hulot is in the Formula 1 category.
Nicolas Hulot, at the head of the 10-year-old Fondation Nicolas-Hulot pour la nature et l’homme, recently published a so-called ecological pact, which he has been proposing to candidates for next year’s French presidential election. Piles of this document are on sale in every bookshop and supermarket in France. The pact includes five engagements:
— Appointment of a deputy prime minister in charge of durable development.
— Imposition of a tax on carbon dioxide emission.
— Reorientation of agricultural policies.
— Organization of participative debates on environmental questions.
— Implementation of educational programs in ecology.
This afternoon, the socialist candidate Ségolène Royal met up with Hulot and expressed her overall acceptance of the measures set out in his pact. Meanwhile, Jacques Chirac had invited Hulot along to the Elysée Palace, earlier in the day, and asked him to be a member of the committee preparing a conference in Paris, on 2-3 February, aimed at setting up a World Environment Organization. There's no doubt about it: Monsieur Hulot, these days, is much in demand.
Besides the ecological pact, another little book, published in 1989, is a must for those who wish to understand the force that has been driving Monsieur Hulot in his fabulous media activities and his ecological crusade. It’s an autobiography whose title, Les chemins de traverse, might be translated as Crossroads. Nicolas relates the tragic story of the suicide of his brother Gonzague in the cellar of the family’s Paris flat. It was 18-year-old Nicolas himself who came upon the decaying body on Christmas Eve 1974, when he was helping his sister prepare the festivities. Gonzague had left a paper stating: Life is not worth living. And, ever since that discovery of his dead brother (which was not revealed to his mother and relatives during the entire Christmas evening, to avoid spoiling the get-together), Nicolas has devoted his existence to proving that Gonzague’s words were terribly wrong.