MON ONCLE (Jacques Tati, 1958)

I like Jacques Tati a lot, along with his persona Monsieur Hulot, but I find My Uncle exceptionally annoying despite its Oscar, other best foreign-language film prizes from the New York critics and Spain’s film writers, and the best film prize from France’s film critics.
     My Uncle finds M Hulot battling the impersonal, mechanized modern world and its infatuation with gadgetry and automated gizmos. His brother-in-law and sister, the Arpels, embody this infatuation, which makes their home an extension of the factory, which manufactures plastic products, that M Arpel directs and where he gets Hulot a job for a cold-blooded reason: to take somewhat away this uncle from the couple’s young son and thereby diminish his kind-hearted influence. Tati contrasts the Arpels’ sterile house, with its functional buzzing noises, and Hulot’s flat in a neighborhood that’s full of the noise of sociable humanity—a place that Hulot’s nephew loves to visit.
     One scene is briefly hilarious: Hulot’s tackling his sister’s ultra-modern kitchen, where cupboards open and perilously snap shut seemingly on their own accord. Hulot drops a pitcher and is surprised to see it bounce. He expects the glass in his other hand to do the same when he drops it—but it really is made of glass and shatters!
     But too much in the film, for me, simply isn’t funny enough. The Arpels are so grossly caricatured that I was grateful, and fleetingly touched, at their one heartfelt exchange on their way home from a concert they attend.
     I am used to enjoying Hulot’s innocently, obliviously causing mischief; but here instead he is constantly being blamed for things he hasn’t done. This doesn’t appeal to me—although it doesn’t bother him, thank goodness.
     Tati’s gracious silent performance allows Hulot to utter one word: “Fine.”

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