Mon Oncle Movie Review
But in 1958 there was another kind of France wending its way into the Old World, and in Mon Oncle ("my uncle") Hulot's young nephew lives there. Attained by crossing over a broken down fence, this French neighborhood is ultra-modern and its architecture is automated and inhumanly chic. The plot of Mon Oncle, almost in its entirety, is that the young nephew prefers his eccentric uncle's company to that of his mother, who makes a frantic practice of keeping up with the Joneses, or his father, who works (where else?) in a plastics plant. But, as with all Tati, the jokes are in the details and not in the story.
And the details are killingly funny. We find the boy's home, for example, a stylized fish fountain in the courtyard that sputters to life only when guests are present, fashionable aluminum and plastic chairs that all but fail to function as a place to sit, and a kitchen full of buzzers and mysterious appliances that is truly wondrous to behold. The richest of the film's humor comes from watching the homeowners bravely trying to actually live amid this hostile modernity. One running joke involves a pair of round windows that transform the house's exterior into a robot face at night, the couple appearing in them like pupils in its eyes.
The antithesis to this is, of course, M. Hulot's world of warmth and humanity. In a subplot, Hulot applies for a job at the plastics plant where his brother-in-law works in management, and the results are predictably catastrophic. But in contrast to today's frantic comedy, the chaos in Mon Oncle is characteristically subdued; it is among Tati's gifts that his gags are often so subtle as to threaten to get away unnoticed.
Mon Oncle picked up the 1959 Oscar for best foreign language film, and it shines as bright as ever on the new Criterion DVD release. The DVD also features Tati's 1947 short film L'école des facteurs, in which a rural postman encounters similar problems with modernization, and an engaging video introduction by actor Terry Jones.
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