Take a Drink: for suburban sameness
Take a Drink: for mischief
Take a Drink: for Mr. Hulot-prompted misunderstandings
Take a Drink: for Mr. Hulot’s young admirer
Take a Drink: for street dogs
Do a Shot: for baffling modernities
By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
I’ve been on a Jacques Tati kick ever since seeing his magnum opus, Playtime, but I haven’t really followed much rhyme or reason in the order I’ve watched them. I saw his first Hulot flick, Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, next, and now I’m reviewing his third feature, with both his first and his last yet to see. Watching Playtime first meant that Tati’s preceding films are fascinating from an evolution of an artist standpoint, but also a tad disappointing.
For the reverse, imagine watching Jack first then building to The Godfather
Mon Oncle stars Tati’s Mr. Hulot as the titular uncle, a bumbling, slightly disorganized guy whose “very modern” sister and brother-in-law constantly try to sort out, and whose nephew idealizes. He’s just not suited for their slick, materialistic modernity, though, but perhaps he can introduce a much-needed element of chaos to their stuffy lives.
The seeds for a lot of what Tati accomplished in Playtime were sewn in Mon Oncle. Both films lampoon the flashy, substance-less consumerism of French culture and society in the 1960s in contrast with the more disorganized but more communal and livelier old ways. Here he completely delineates the two worlds through style and design, then has Mr. Hulot play the ambassador and evangelist for a nostalgic France.
And what style…
The way Tati creates these two worlds is meticulous and impressive. The modern suburban home is spotless, but sterile, minimalist and tasteless in equal measure. It even sounds different (Tati, as always, is a maestro of sound- you can almost close your eyes and get the message). Every footstep reverberates, every movement echoes, because there is no background noise- it’s life in a vacuum. In contrast, Hulot’s older city center tenement bustles with noise, almost too much of it, and his apartment is one of what appears to be several houses and additions Frankensteined together over the years. But it lives.
Maybe literally, Howl’s-style
First off, though, this is a comedy, and it delivers, from Hulot’s clever slapstick and callbacks to the ornery antics of the dogs and children in the film, natural chaos factors, to some of the sharp social satire that he’d perfect in his next film, like the way the factory entrance and the school entrance are nearly identical.
The inane, annoying chatter and shrill laughter of the suburban houseguests during the garden party scene is too effective, and it seems like Tati pushes the sound design of this scene into truly grating and alienating territory. This scene is just too damn long, and too damn loud.
May provoke seizures or murder sprees.
Mon Oncle‘s pleasures are simple, and the film doesn’t have much to say besides its didactic old vs. new message. It’s not the deepest insight, and contains only a fraction of Playtime‘s ambition.
Mon Oncle registers both as a fascinating step on the path to Playtime, and a joyful, gentle critique of modern life.