ACMI Re/commends: Mon Oncle

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Thara Krishna-Pillay (Programmer, Public Programs) takes a look back at this charming French comedy from the 1950's. 

The 1958 comedic gem Mon Oncle was written and directed by and starred Jacques Tati and was the second film in which he played the much-loved Monsieur Hulot – a polite, clumsy and naive character whose creation was influenced by Buster Keaton and in turn influenced Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean. 

Mon Oncle pokes fun at the absurdities of modern living and society’s growing obsession with technology. From the very start of the film, we move between Hulot’s world of ramshackle old buildings, street markets and cafes to the ultra-modern house of his gadget-obsessed sister and brother-in-law – the Arpels. The design of the house, much praised and shown off by Madame Arpel, exposes the discomfort of modern design and the pretentiousness of its owners; with its fish-shaped fountain that only gets turned on for important visitors, its garden divided into over-manicured compartments and gadgets so loud they make conversation impossible. The link between the two worlds is Hulot’s nephew Gérard. Bored by his sterile surroundings and impersonal parents, he has much more fun with his Uncle.

Mon Oncle is a lovely mix of recurring jokes, set pieces, incidental business and witty design which gives you a complete picture of the very different lives being led by its characters. Tati’s visual comedy is complimented by the clicks, whirs and buzzing of the Arpel’s modern world, as well as a fantastic soundtrack. 

I love all Tati’s films but there is a poignancy to Mon Oncle – it laughs at the pitfalls of modernity while hinting at a world that is vanishing.

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