Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mon Oncle (1958)

Mon Oncle aka My Uncle
Director: Jacques Tati
France 1958
117 min
Starring: Jacques Tati, Jean-Pierre Zola, Adrienne Servantie, Alain Bécourt, Lucien Frégis, Betty Schneider, Jean- Francois Martial and Yvonne Arnaud, among others.

A cosy film with on of the loveliest French characters of cinema ever - Monsieur Hulot.
Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1959.

Just one of many fascinating films I get to see in school. Life sure is nice sometimes!

While on the subject of Sound in film class, Mon Oncle was the film they chose for an example for us to see in the movie theater called Mauritz. I looked forward to see it: when I was 16 I watched all Jacques Tati's "Monsieur Hulot films" in a row, which afterwards has caused both confusion and loss of memory. A re-watch was certainly necessary in my situation.

The lights in the theater went out, and a lovely piano tune accompanied by an accordion (I think - I'm no music expert) with a typical French small town feeling to it began to play. This tune shows to accompany almost all the film, and just like the Harry Lime theme of The Third Man (1949) etched into my brain, so did this. I'm still humming it to myself.
I'm no typical girl per se, but the intro with the stray dogs happily running around in back streets of a little French village just made me go "awww" - exactly the sound a woman like me shouldn't make when seeing something cute, if I want to be taken for an intellectual. I guess I'll just have to live with it - those dogs are adorable. This introduction scene also serves its purpose of establishing the feeling of the rest of the film, and is ingeniously repeated for the film's closure.

Oh, I haven't even started with the plot. Not that a plot is really necessary when talking about the eccentric Monsieur Hulot, director/actor Jacques Tati's famous character that he repeated several times on screen. It is obvious from the first shot of him in this film that we are supposed to recognize him - we do not see his face for several minutes (my estimation, may be seconds... but who cares?). What we do see is his back, standing in front of a billboard. He has his hands on his back, holding an umbrella. A beige coat, too short trousers, a worn out hat and a long, strait pipe - which we get a glimpse of when he for a split second shows his profile, just to turn his back on us again. It's Monsieur Hulot alright, the man who rather gesticulates with his umbrella and make humming noises than utter any unnecessary words.

Anyone noticing a resemblance between this shot and the childhood sequence in Citizen Kane, with little Charles outside the window? It may be to be over interpreting, but it was nonetheless a detail I noticed!

I still haven't gotten to explaining the plot? Alright then, but it's really just a vehicle for making fun of fashionistas and the high society with its twisted view of what's important and what is not. Monsieur Hulot is the man indicated in the title: the uncle of a nine year old boy called Gerard Arpel (Alain Bécourt). He is the neglected son of Monsieur and Madame Arpel (Jean-Pierre Zola and Adrienne Servantie), a rich couple who withhold a disturbing gender roles and an even more disturbing modern house - all strait lines, emptiness and an ugly fish fountain which Madame Arpel only turns on for fine visitors. Gerard is more like another piece of furniture in their beloved villa, until his uncle Hulot comes by and live becomes vivid again.
You just have to see the first scene to understand what I mean about the gender roles (something that I normally never react on) - the perfect wife of a respectable husband.

That plot line is about everything there is to mention on the subject - the rest of the film is an expose of Monsieur Hulot in comical situations, lovable anonymous supporting characters and Monsieur Arpel's annoyance with the "bad influence" Gerard's uncle has on the boy. Considering the harmless Hulot a "bad influence" is bizarre in itself - the worst thing he does is to tilt over the couple's divan and black out drunk on it on their wedding anniversary - which fits the humor and subject of the film as a whole.

Apparently all supporting characters are amateurs, and perhaps that is just why they seem so real and manage to take up so much space despite of their minimal on-screen time. My favorite is by far the man sweeping the streets, or more is supposed to sweep the streets but seems to always get distracted from it. The garbage pails in the foreground is a returning feature, and a perfect example of what makes Tati such a brilliant film maker: the humor lies in the details, uncovering something new every time you see one of his films.

The main strength of Tati's humor though is obviously in his minimalistic dialog. Not only does his character seldom speak, but every other scene of the film is without dialog. In a way it is an obvious influence by silent comedians like Buster Keaton and Charles Chaplin, but the technical advancement in the 1950's versus the silent era adds another dimension to the language of the film. I noticed several times that the characters moved in synchronization with that lovely musical theme, and at one time even sang along with it (!).

One can't describe a film like this with words, it is an experience. But I have to point out that some people can't stand Tati at all - they think his films are too slow, the musical theme repetitive and the plot lines too thin. I love that style, and apart from several hysterical moments with loud laughter I found myself sitting with a big smile on my face all through the film. What I meant to say was this: Tati may be an acquired taste, or one may just either love him or get bored with him. I think it's fairly obvious which category I place myself in.

Now I have to do some homework for tomorrow. (Can you believe that I actually have a life nowadays? Apart from staying home all day, biting my nails and force blog entries to get the time going, I mean.) It is hard to keep up with any worthy blog posts when being busy during the days, but I guess most of you readers have lives too, and won't complain about me not posting every single day anymore. Right?

Now, let's just hope that this one feet layer of snow is gone tomorrow, and that I won't have to wait an hour for the train. Like I already have had to do thrice since I began my studies last Monday. Makes me want to sit down in a corner at the Central Station, shivering and and shouting out the words of "I Don't Like Mondays" to all my lucky fellow commuters.



Samuel Wilson said...

Lolita, Tati's films are fascinating but they require attentive viewing. You have to look for the stuff that's happening, and if people wait for the obvious gags they're going to get impatient fast. I like Playtime best of his films but the gag with the cigarette lighter in the car in Mon Oncle is one of the funniest I've ever seen, just because of its simplicity.

Diana. said...

Tati´s films are so different from what you´ve seen before... and even in today´s cinema.

We were just talking about this film yesterday at work!

Raquel Stecher said...

Some of your posts have been lifted entirely and posted on these sites without your permission. Same thing has happened to me. I'm currently contacting them to remove all of my original content and I would advise you do the same.

Your stuff is under "Classic Lolita" and I saw your engagement announcement there too.

Andrew K. said...

I have not seen this, naturally. It's really difficult to get any foreign film over here, especially an "old" one. Have you seen Cousine, Cousine? Is it any good?

PS. Participate in this if you can.

Maggie said...

Hey Lolita. I wasn't sure if you saw Racquelle's post today about a content thief, but I wanted to let you know that he has copied a few of your entries. Here is his URL.

Lolita of the Classics said...

Samuel Wilson:
You put it well, about how Tati's films need to be seen! I can surely understand people not liking them, since they need attention and relaxation.

What a coincidence! And yes, a film like this one is a breath of fresh air!

I just saw it! What the fuck?! I can't believe someone doing that. I recognized several of your posts too, and also from Film Noir Photos etc. I just left a fucking angry comment on the posts he stole from me, but I guess it will just be deleted. Fucking hell!

Imported DVD's is the way to go in your situation ;)
I haven't seen Cousine, Cousine!

Thanks for letting me know, I just realized it! I can't believe it! That's just pure theft, and it feels bad as hell to have pictures of me on another blog than my own! Not to mention those wallpapers and the rest... I simply can't believe this shit!