Wednesday, 9 September 2015

I've Just Seen: Mon Oncle (1958)

Mon Oncle (1958)
Director: Jacques Tati

Tati's comedies stand between the silent comedies of Keaton, Chaplin and Lloyd (amongst others), and Rowan Atkinson's Mr Bean. While the former three were silent largely through historical context, Tati's disregard for dialogue is entirely through choice. But one thing that makes Tati's films great is that they build on the comedy developed in the silent era, and add sound to enhance or undercut what we see on screen. Though there were subtitles on the version I watched (French with English subtitles), I can barely remember any dialogue; but I do remember the neighbour's ridiculous laugh, the clip-clop of the women's heels, the whoops and doops of the plastic-making machine and the whoosh of the garage door.

All these sounds help develop the architectural spaces Tati created for the film. The Arpels' modern house is so overly designed to the point of being practically unliveable, while Hulot resides in a crumbling flat that requires a walk encompassing almost all of the building (and certainly all of the stairs). We are never left in doubt who is the target of Tati's comedy: the Arpels are as hollow and manufactured as their house is, only turning the fountain on when they believe someone important is visiting. While Tati's Oncle Hulot is silly and bumbling, we do not care about the objects he ruins, and enjoy the chaos he brings into his relations' lives.

The title refers to the relationship between Hulot and Gerard Arpel, his nephew. This is no Hollywood sentimental film about family connection; Hulot and Gerard hardly exchange words. Instead, Gerard clearly loves the fun and freedom he experiences with his uncle, who does even sillier things than Gerard. Though not a large part of the film, it provides some sweet moments.

The question with any comedy is: did you laugh? I did, though not loudly or often. Rather, the film is amusing, and I found myself appreciating how clever it was, rather than being surprised into laughter. It is very enjoyable, and certainly shows that production and sound design are just as important as script and acting in comedy.


  1. I love the house the Arpels live in. It is completely ridiculous and so many of the elements have now become staples. How often do we curse the remote control or accidentally turn something unexpected on?

    1. I would never want to live in it, but it is one of the best houses in film history. Those peeping windows are brilliant.
      It certainly looks like a house that would feature on one of those house renovation/make-over shows.