Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Yesterday I watched Mon Oncle (1958),* the last of five Jacques Tati movies recently screened at AFI's Silver Theater* in Maryland. Here, Tati again follows his charming, often bewildered alter ego, Monsieur Hulot, through an unstoppable onslaught of modern society. This movie falls squarely between the director's advancements in hyper-naturalism in Les Vacances de M. Hulot (1953),* and his nearly avant-garde visual turn in Playtime (1967).* Some of my thoughts on those films can be referenced here and here. Throughout Tati's career, his focus on individuals and warm, reactionary slapstick began to pull back, giving over to handfuls of iconography in tableau. By Mon Oncle, the camera lingers, increasingly distant, on characters trapped within whimsical anecdotes propelled by environment: packs of dressed dogs scurry around packs of children pranking unsuspecting commuters between some-urbia and the local plastic factory. M. Hulot cocks his head, diligently trying to parse each new absurdity. This seems to mark the middle of a narrative trilogy bookended by the other two films. If Tati has played off provincial France in the past, and will, in the future, create a world of pitched and ludicrous futurism, then this is the movie in which the new world encroaches. The nephew to Hulot's Oncle lives in a rapidly advancing modern suburb with his family. Their house is a confusion of gadgets surrounded by a yard of comically landscaped intersecting patches of multi-colored grass and gravel, crisscrossed by serpentine paths of stepping-stones. Hulot lives back in the city, in a teetering patchwork tenement constructed exclusively of windows and stairs. He navigates the Escher-like complexity of his own home but cannot master his nephew's front yard. Between the two houses are telltale signs of what's to come: construction, machines, men at work. The modern suburb is already taking over. [Cavin]

Then, a 0 sided conversation ensued...

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