Saturday 19 January 2019

Mon Oncle [1958]

The French visual stylist, satirist and comic genius Jacques Tati’s memorable film persona Monsieur Hulot – a gentle, eccentric, gauche, flummoxed, bumbling, perpetually distracted and anachronistic man with an overcoat, pipe, bent posture and distinctive walk – made his first appearance in Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, though its seeds were already there in Jour de Fête. However, it was in Mon Oncle that Tati’s signature satirizing of an increasingly modernized and impersonal urban milieu, and associated existential incongruities, reached its most fabulous expression – in terms of hilarious and undeniably ingenuous gags and set-pieces, as well as sharp jabs at our getting irrevocably trapped by fancy gadgets, automations, connected homes and in turn not just being stripped of the little pleasures, but also, ironically, losing one’s freedom too. Hulot is the titular uncle of Gérard (Alain Bécourt), a mischievous kid, who lives with his parents – the father (Jean-Pierre Zola) is a senior executive at a huge firm manufacturing plastic pipes, while the mother (Adrienne Servantie) is obsessed with their “smart home” – in Villa Arpel, a hyper-modern, outrageously pretentious and surreal-looking rectangular concrete-and-glass edifice. The Arpels and their idiosyncratic neighbours’ outlandish lives formed droll contradictions to the crumbling, absurd-looking house where Hulot resides and the adjoining chaotic, messy and overcrowded neighbourhood peopled with quirky, carefree folks – a street sweeper who does everything but that, an obese grocer whose decrepit car if over-filled with old instruments, street brawls being settled over drinks in the local tavern, kids having fun by distracting passers-by, etc. The neurotic irreverence of Hulot, who shares a heartwarming relation with Gérard, starts putting into disarray the Arpels’ absurdly meticulous existence, which formed a key tenet of this farcical, colourful and whimsical gem.

p.s. This is a revisit. My earlier review of this film can be found here.

Director: Jacques Tati
Genre: Comedy/Social Satire/Slapstick
Language: French
Country: France

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