Mon Oncle (1958)

“I am not at all against modern architecture but I believe it should come with not only a building but also a living permit.”

‘Mon Oncle’, my second Jacques Tati movie from 1958, like ‘Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot’ follows the adventures of Tati’s bumbling man-child as he fails to engage with modern life. In this movie, his failure is made all the more pronounced as it focuses on the minimalist, consumerist domestic culture and on the mechanisation of factory work. It’s a series of sketches with linking themes. It’s a film in which adult characters move in straight lines or follow concrete paths, live in soulless, empty boxes whilst around them agents of chaos: dogs, children, the elderly and, most chaotic of all, Hulot, confuse and confound their ordered lives. Tati is a master of physical comedy but also, as the director, organises his movie and the look of his movie literally with mathematical precision. Like Chaplin in ‘Modern Times’, the central character becomes the spanner in the machine that ultimately liberates through destruction. Highlights are the tour-de-force dinner party in a minimalist garden during which Hulot slowly and obliviously dismantles the ordered details of the set, also the scenes of Hulot in the hose making managing to turn the rubber hose into something resembling a string of sausages. The film is packed with joyous, innocently childlike moments that lift the monotony of the social satire and really tap into a tension in the 1950s between embracing and fearing the future. It’s a film full of characters who have created space for themselves with time-saving modern devices and then discover that there is nothing to do with that time.

Would I recommend it? Of course – with ‘Modern Times’ it gives an excellent double bill.

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