Title: Mon oncle
Country: France, Italy
Director: Jacques Tati
Music: Franck Barcellini, Alain Romans
Cinematography: Jean Bourgoin
Jacques Tati’s Oscar BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE PICTURE champ, MON ONCLE is his third feature and the first in color, which bestows him a perfect implement to visualize his ingenuity of chromatic outlandishness and architectural brainwave, on top of his already honed-up dexterity in his sui generis comedic bent.
The titular uncle, it goes without saying, refers to Tati’s alter ego Mr. Hulot, and his nephew is the 9-year old Gérard Arpel (Bécourt), who lives in an eye-catching modern villa (reckoning its time, how incredible it still can sweep new audience off their feet just like that, almost 60 years since its debut) with his parents (Zola and Servant) in Parisian suburb, an outré construction constituted with geometric motifs and glaring color schemes, later in the movie, against a nocturnal background, the house resembles a giant robot with round eyes where two eyeballs bob up intermittently to check the noise Mr. Hulot makes.
Its garden is divided into pockets of different colors (green lawns, pink and yellow sands etc.), adorned by stepping stones (definitely not suitable for walking), and in the centre there is a fish-shaped fountain would become an ineffable running gag because Ms. Arpel would only switch it on when there are visitors, neither for her own kin, aka. her brother Mr. Hulot, nor a fruit vendor. Equipped with an über-modern kitchen, where everything is run by either a button (e.g. to flip the steak) or automatic sensors (the cupboard conundrum stymies Mr. Hulot), the house permeates with a middle-class complacency borne out of the industrial wealth.
Whereas for Mr. Hulot, he lives, in company with other households, in a slightly decrepit building which has its own idiosyncratic attribute, the building’s windows, staircases and landings are entwined in an unconventionally genius layout, fashioned by Jacques Lagrange (as one of the key artistic collaborators), it is absolutely an apotheosis (along with the villa) in the strand of contemporary production design. Same can be extolled to costume designer Jacques Cottin, whose creation tallies with the film’s startling color and geometric pattern and whimsically fleshes out a farcical tinge of bourgeois wackiness, a scrumptious grace note is the middle-aged neighbor (Marie), whose grandiose appearances in bamboo hat and later as a“carpet” are simply divine to gawp.
The satire of preferring superficiality and technology to utility is very much on the nose, and indeed that is why Tati’s work is so admirably pellucid in reflecting his own frame-of-mind, it is a light comedy, the plot and dialogue barely exist, Mr. Hulot is perpetually the oddball finds himself difficult to fit in anywhere, yet the film is anything but frothy, each and every vignette is punctiliously devised to perfection under a good-natured timbre with wry humor, in the end, it is the familial bond that matters, a boy finds a similar vibe with his priggish father while seeing off his favorite uncle at the station, the ending anticipates Tati’s next pièce de résistance PLAYTIME (1967).
A high priest of post-modernism, Tati’s legacy in cinema cannot be more overstated in his absolute talent in balancing quotidian absurdity with a high-end conception which stands out as a universe of its own, a virtuoso cinematic comedian-starchitect first and foremost, Tati takes up the baton of those eminent names before him like Lumière Brothers, Keaton and Chaplin, and arguably he has gone further and bolder.