THE FRENCH think Jerry Lewis was funny, it's true. But they also produced Jacques Tati, one of the screen's great comedians. Next Thursday, the French Embassy's Cine-Club will show Les Vacances de M. Hulot (Mr. Hulot's Holiday) at the Embassy's 4101 Reservoir Road location. The character Hulot (pronounced "OOLO" and played recurrently by Tati) was a gangly, pipe-smoking duffer who wandered in and out of life's Everyday with an almost sacred spaciness.

In "Vacances," Hulot takes his dying car to the French seaside, where he gives full play to his idiosyncratic ability to cause consternation wherever he goes. He is, of course, oblivious to it all. "Vacances," like other Hulot films, needs no subtitles. Tati's films are condensed to the basic noises of life, grunts, squeaks and -- in this film -- the marvelously schmaltzy beach music theme that becomes a kind of phonetic punctuation. You won't get the kind of belly laughs Animal House gives you, but you will shake with quiet mirth. Admission for non-members is $3. And space may be limited.

Coming attractions at the Cine-Club's weekly screenings are Francesco Rosi's Carmen, Jean-Luc Godard's Le Vent de L'Est (Wind from the East) and Philippe de Broca's culty King of Hearts. Call 944-6400.

Usually, when a writer directs from his or her own screenplay, the result is disappointing. But West German playwright Peter Handke's first-time movie adaptation and direction of his play is highly successful with The Left-Handed Woman (1980). Edith Clever gives a stunning performance as a woman struggling for self-realization after a marital separation. And veteran Robby Mu ller's camera work is a treat. The film screens free at the Hirshhorn Museum's theater this Friday at 8.

84 Charing Cross Road, David Jones' warmhearted literary tearflick starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins, moves from the Biograph to start a run at the KB MacArthur. And Tampopo, a Japanese comedy (described as a noodle western) that has received much critical praise, opens Wednesday at the Key. There's a free sneak showing, noon this Saturday, at the Key.

The Museum of American History's Carmichael Auditorium screens Nineteen Nineteen Wednesday at 8. The British Film Institute feature has Paul Scofield and Maria Schell reenacting two of Sigmund Freud's most famous case histories. Admission for non-members is $7.50. Call Smithsonian Resident Associates at 357-3030.

The Library of Congress' Mary Pickford Theater screens Marlon Brando's first film, The Men (1950, directed by Fred Zinnemann) Monday night. He plays a paralyzed World War II veteran. "Men" is part of a series commemorating the National Institutes of Health's Centennial and featuring physicians who will comment on the health issues the films raise. The series continues Wednesday with Jean Negulesco's The Dark Wave (1956) and Francois Truffaut's 1970 L'Enfant Sauvage (Wild Child). Do You Remember Love? (1985), a CBS film starring Joanne Woodward as a teacher with Alzheimer's disease, and Deliverance: The Most Wonderful Woman in the World, a 1919 documentary featuring Helen Keller, screen next Friday. The following Tuesday brings George Stevens' Taken for Granted, starring Cary Grant. All films begin at 7.30 and are free. Call 287-5677.