Jacques Tati in Mon oncle (1958)


(director/writer: Jacques Tati; screenwriters: Jean L’Hôte/Jacques Lagrange; cinematographer: Jean Bourgoin; editor: Suzanne Baron; music: Franck Barcellini/Alain Romans; cast: Jacques Tati (Mr. Hulot), Jean-Pierre Zola (Mr. Charles Arpel), Adrienne Servantie (Mrs. Arpel), Alain Becourt (Gerard Arpel), Lucien Fregis (Mr. Pichard), Betty Schneider (Betty, Landlord’s daughter), Dominique Marie (Neighbor); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Jacques Tati/Fred Orain; The Criterion Collection; 1958-France-in French with English subtitles)

“On target in proclaiming points for the individual over the robotic antiseptic world.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jacques Tati’s (“Jour De Fête”) first film in color follows his 1953 Mr. Hulot’s Holiday. Tati again plays the goofy, clumsy and eccentric Hulot (Tati’s alter ego); this time he’s the unemployed bachelor uncle to adorable rich 10-year-old Gerard Arpel. The gangly giant Hulot, carrying an umbrella and dressed in trenchcoat and fedora and having a black pipe pressed against his lips, ventures out of his overpopulated and messy cobble-street colorful Parisian neighborhood to pick up his adoring nephew after school and walk with him back to his ultramodern house. Gerard’s plastic hose factory owner father Charles (Jean-Pierre Zola) is perplexed why his son prefers the dizzy Hulot to him, especially when he treats the youngster to expensive toys. Hulot’s sister is obsessed with cleanliness and time-saving gadgets, and the Arpel house is a triumph for engineering while it falls short when it comes to warmth and functionality (the furniture is mod looking but the chairs are uncomfortable). It has a gated door that you must be buzzed into, a serpentine front walk, a decorative but uninviting lawn with patches of different colored grass, and at the center a hideous sculpture of a fish jutting out of the ground and when a button in the house is pushed it squirts streams of water out of its mouth into a pond that surrounds it. The indoor switch is only pushed when important company arrives (which offers some social commentary, in a film that has very little dialogue and is plotless).

Hulot is viewed as the most human thing in the Arpel’s plastic world; he’s an alternative that brings unintended humor into their sterile materialistic lives. They consider him a sad-sack lost cause, and every thing they do to help him misfires. He loses a job that his brother-in-law got him thirty seconds after being hired; he can’t make contact with a suitable spinster neighbor his sister invites over for a garden-social among friends; and even goofs up a sure job in his brother-in-law’s factory when the hose line he’s assigned to turns out like a sausage.

In this satire of modern life and its reliance on mechanized things, Tati’s physical comedy and slapstick routines come closest to emulating the silent screen comedy of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Tati’s the simple man everyone can relate to who finds himself at odds with the complexity of modern life and its trickery. Through his misadventures, unintentionally creating havoc, we observe how those he comes into contact with are either complacent or terribly out of step with their environment. Tati’s comedy is structured around observing people in their daily lives and that provides us with a chuckle or two at what they do for fun, whether it’s the adults showing off their latest gizmos, their strange mannerisms such as clicking their heels or the schoolchildren playing pranks on the adults. The film meanders along at it own leisurely pace with some of the sight gags not working that well, but others are unforgettable and right on target in proclaiming points for the individual over the robotic antiseptic world.


REVIEWED ON 12/10/2005 GRADE: A-