Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Directed and starring Jacques Tati and written by Tati, Jacques Lagrange, and Jean L’Hote, Mon Oncle (My Uncle) is the story of a man who lives in a small town as he finds himself out of step with the modern world as he devotes his time to his nephew much to the chagrin of his corporate executive brother-in-law. The film explores the world of modernism and materialism in a satirical manner where a simple man has a hard time dealing with these new changes as Tati plays the role of his famous character in Monsieur Hulot. Also starring Jean-Pierre Zola, Adrienne Servantie, and Alain Becourt. Mon Oncle is a witty yet delightful film from Jacques Tati.
The film is about a Monsieur Hulot who lives in a small, simple town in France where nearby is this more upper-class yet very modern suburbia that his sister (Adrienne Servantie) and her husband (Pierre Zola) live in with their son Gerard (Alain Becourt). While Hulot is often given opportunities to work at his brother-in-law’s plastic hose factory, Hulot has a hard time not just dealing with what he has to do but also the idea of machines as his brother-in-law’s home is filled with lots of technology that he doesn’t understand. It all plays into the idea of how technology and materialism can confuse someone who lives a very simple yet adjusted lifestyle as the few joys he has is paying attention to his nephew who is bored by his upper-class surroundings as his parents don‘t spend time with him. Even as they prefer to impress people with their home and such as if they’re the toast of the town.
The film’s screenplay doesn’t have much of a plot nor does it have a lot of dialogue as it’s mostly a silent film with sound. There’s people who talk every now and then but it’s more about Monsieur Hulot and his encounter with the world that his sister and her husband live in. Filled with these strange chairs, gadgets that do things by itself, and all of the things that may seem modern. Yet, it becomes baffling for him because he has no idea what it does nor any clue on how to work on such a thing. Even when his sister and her husband have something new, they think know what it does or how it works but it only shows how lazy they’ve sort of become where it’s not enough for them to do things themselves. Even to the point where they neglect their son Gerard as he starts to act out a bit as he hangs around with other boys doing pranks and such while having some fun with his uncle.
Jacques Tati’s direction is definitely a marvel to look at in not just the simplicity in the way he approaches the comedy but also the way he presents the modern world. With the broad compositions that he creates, Tati presents the film where it is about a world that is changing from the opening credits as a building is being constructed where the credits are shown on a construction wall. It sets the tone for what is to come though a lot of it is quite light-hearted as it is followed by dogs roaming around a poor small town where things are in ruins yet things still happen as people live comfortably and talk with one another. Even as Tati would put in a few gags such as a street sweeper often talking to someone and ignoring the work he was supposed to do. There’s even some very heartwarming moments such as Monsieur Hulot having the sunlight reflecting on a singing bird.
That sense of intimacy and naturalism that Tati brings in those little moments are small compared to the setting of the world that Monsieur Hulot’s sister and her family lives in. It’s all very modern but also somewhat oppressive in some ways from the images of cars driving on the road in unison to the way the houses look. Still, Tati finds way to infuse humor into the scenes such as the home of Monsieur Hulot’s sister as it has two windows where if there’s shadows, it looks like a pair of eyes. There’s also some gags that Tati would put in that includes a fountain and later an electric garage door opener as it all showcases how ridiculous the modern world can be. Even as Hulot’s character is so baffled by his surroundings where Tati knows where to put Hulot into the frame as he’s trying to either fix something or help someone while other things are happening. Overall, Tati creates a very fascinating yet funny film about the downsides of modernism.
Cinematographer Jean Bourgoin does amazing work with the film‘s colorful photography from the simple yet understated look of the small town and some of the scenes in the cities to the more vibrant yet artificial coloring of the suburbia where Gerard and his family live. Editor Suzanne Baron does excellent work with the editing by creating some abrupt rhythmic cuts for a few scenes as well as some cuts to play up the film‘s humor. Art director Henri Schmitt does brilliant work with the set pieces from the apartment that Monsieur Hulot lives in to the look of the home of his brother-in-law as well as the factory that he runs.
Costume designer Jacques Cottin does terrific work with the costumes where a lot of the people that Monsieur Hulot‘s brother-in-law and their friends wear posh clothes while Monsieur Hulot wears a simple suit and long overcoat to display his persona. The film’s music by Alain Romans and Frank Barcellini is a real highlight of the film for its playful arrangements of strings and accordions to play up many themes revolving around Monsieur Hulot as well as the film’s humor.
The film’s cast is superb as it features some notable small performances from Betty Schneider as a landlord’s daughter who admires Monsieur Hulot, Yvonne Arnaud as the overworked family maid, Dominique Marie as a posh neighbor Monsieur Hulot’s sister tries to set her up with Hulot, and Lucien Fregis as Monsieur Pichard who works for Hulot’s brother-in-law who is the only one that seems to understand Monsieur Hulot’s alienation. Jean-Pierre Zola and Adrienne Servantie are excellent as Mr. and Mrs. Arpel as a couple who are consumed with modernism and materialism as they definitely lose sight of what is more valuable as Zola brings a comical energy as Monsieur Hulot’s brother-in-law while Servantie is also funny as Hulot’s sister. Alain Becourt is wonderful as Gerard Arpel as a boy who just wants to have fun as he enjoys his time with his uncle while dealing with the monotonous and drab world of his parents.
Finally, there’s Jacque Tati in a tremendous performance as Monsieur Hulot as he brings an amazing physicality to his performance in the way Hulot reacts to his surroundings. Even in scenes where he’s trying to fit in but finds himself unable to as he would either try to fix things or do something nice but mess things up unknowingly. It’s definitely Tati at his best as he does for the Hulot character to make him one of cinema’s great characters.
Mon Oncle is an outstanding film from Jacques Tati. With its humorous take on modernism, consumerism, social status, and materialism. It’s a film that still manages to make sense of a world that is losing itself in order to be more impressive. It’s also a very funny and heartfelt film in which a man takes the time to be with his nephew who shows him the simple pleasures in life. In the end, Mon Oncle is a remarkable film from Jacques Tati.
Jacques Tati Films: Jour de Fete - Monsieur Hulot's Holiday - Play Time - Trafic - Parade - The Short Films of Jacques Tati - The Auteurs #49: Jacques Tati
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