Mon Oncle – Criterion Collection (1958)
Mon Oncle is a comedy by Jacques Tati, starring his clown character M. Hulot. Set in France, there is very little dialog, removing the problem of any language barrier for those of us who aren’t fluent in French. Mon Oncle is a satire on modern life, contrasting the strict, sterile “modern” life with the older, slower lifestyle. It also provides a vehicle for M. Hulot to work his comedy magic in; it’s a different style of comedy, taking time to set the scene and characters in order to amplify the (visual) punchline.
The basic premise of Mon Oncle is that M. Hulot is a good-natured, lackadaisical, unemployed man, who is idolized by his nephew, Gerald. Gerald’s parents live in an ultra-modern house, created by the factory owned and run by Gerald’s successful father. He’s jealous of Hulot’s relationship with his son.
Mon Oncle is a funny film, with several very funny moments:
- school boys “pretending” to cause an automobile accident in bumper-to-bumper traffic – with M. Hulot unintentionally causing a real accident
- M. Hulot in the “modern” house, fighting with the cupboards, “modern” chair, etc.
- a laugh-out-loud moment as M. Hulot “bounces” an unbreakable rubber pitcher 3 times, and then tries the same with a drinking glass
- Mistaking the neighbor for a rug salesman
- M. Hulot at the garden party, accidentally “breaking” the prized fish fountain, which is only turned on for “important” guests
- Work at his brother-in-law’s factory, M. Hulot losing a battle with automated factory equipment, ruining the manufacturer of some red hose, which he then tries (unsuccessfully) to dispose of
- When Madame Arpel surprises her husband with another modern “labor-saving” device for their anniversary – an automated garage door opener – their dog walks in front of the sensor, locking the Aprels in their garage. They try to get their maid to trip the sensor to let them back out, but Georgette is afraid of being electrocuted
- Hulot & the men from the factory trying to get rid of the “sausage” hose by tossing it into the river from a bridge, nearby couple thinks it’s a suicide, the man dives in, gets angry and chases them. A fight is about to ensue, and Hulot takes his coat off, hands it to bystander, and punches that bystander by mistake
- The morning after their anniversary celebration, husband & wife both try to talk to the other, but can’t be heard over the sound of their appliances
- After throwing 2 defective matches out of the car, Hulot throws the cigarette lighter out
Editorial review of Mon Oncle courtesy of Amazon.com
A comic masterpiece from director-star Jacques Tati (Playtime, Traffic), this 1958 film–Tati’s first in color–reprises the carefree, oblivious title character from the director’s hilarious international hit Mr. Hulot’s Holiday. This time, the story finds Hulot, a self-involved twit on a constant collision with the physical world, grappling with 1950s-style progress. Visiting his sister and brother-in-law in their ultra-progressive household full of noisy gadgets and futuristic decor, Hulot inevitably has dust-ups with modernity, each one exceptionally funny. Taking a page from Buster Keaton‘s playbook, Tati also employs his trademark techniques with sound and production design to achieve the indefinable, comic genius of his films: the rhythmic clacking of footsteps, the cartoon-panel distance of his camera frame from the heart of the action. (Why are funny things funnier when seen from a few extra feet away?) Tati is one of the cinema’s great treasures, and this movie is unforgettable. —Tom Keogh
Product Description of Mon Oncle
Slapstick prevails when Jacques Tati’s eccentric hero Monsieur Hulot is let loose in the ultramodern house of his brother-in-law, and in an antiseptic factory that manufactures plastic hose. Tati directs and stars in the second entry of the Hulot series, a delightful satire of mechanized living. Academy Award winner, Best Foreign Film.