Mon Oncle

"Very Good"

Mon Oncle Review


We always hold it against the French that they love Jerry Lewis -- it's a valid complaint -- but their taste in homegrown screen comedians is light years better than their taste in imports, and their favorite there has always been Jacques Tati. In his best movies, Tati played a character named Monsieur Hulot, an awkward, likable bachelor invariably attired in a sporty hat and trenchcoat, who clenched a pipe in his teeth at all times and took an interest in anyone or anything that passed his way. For Tati, Hulot embodied all that was warm and human in his homeland: he frequented the kind of small café that Paris is famous for, bought food from vegetable carts, lived in a Mansard-roofed walk-up, and knew all his neighbors and all his neighbors' pets. In Hulot's France friendly dogs play the day away in packs, laundry hangs from balconies, and the girl downstairs has a taste for sweets.

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.



Mon Oncle

Facts and Figures

Run time: 117 mins

In Theaters: Monday 3rd November 1958

Distributed by: Continental Distributing Inc.

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Fresh: 21 Rotten: 2

IMDB: 7.9 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: Jean-Pierre Zola as Monsieur Hulot, as Monsieur Arpel, Adrienne Servantie as Madame Arpel, Lucien Frégis as Monsieur Pichard, Betty Schneider as Betty, Jean-François Martial as Walter, Dominique Marie as Voison, Yvonne Arnaud as Georgette, Adelaide Danieli as Madame Pichard, Alain Bécourt as Gerald Arpel, Régis Fontenay as Braces dealer

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