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Mon oncle

Director: Jacques Tati

France| 1956. English subtitles. Colour. 116 mins.


Mon oncle is a transitional work in which Tati is concerned to show how the warm community life depicted in his earlier farcical comedies is gradually being replaced by the cold, inhuman New World that he satirises more extensively in the later Playtime and Traffic. The film presents a comic contrast of two lifestyles, with the convivial atmosphere of the old quarter of town where Hulot lives being juxtaposed with the plastic, electronic formality of the modern house where his in-laws, the Arpels, live. The world of the Arpels is essentially defined by the home and work; indeed, the two are inextricable, for their house is filled with furniture and appliances from the factory where M. Arpel is an executive. Conversely, Hulot seems to actually prefer unemployment, and we barely glimpse the interior of his small flat.
If the Arpel home has affinities with a prison, Tati makes it quite clear that the Arpels themselves are the prisoners, visually stressing this through the horizontal and vertical structures which often frame and entrap the characters. The most striking image of entrapment in the film occurs during the hilarious set-piece in which the couple’s dog accidentally manages to imprison them both in their garage by passing in front of the electric eye which activates the new door. One senses that Tati feels this is a just punishment for a couple who buy each other a new car and a new garage door as wedding anniversary presents, and whose idea of celebrating the occasion is to drive the car into the garage-an image whose overtones of sexual symbolism only serve to emphasise the sterility of their marriage and lifestyle.-Jonathan Sanders. () Plus Cours du soir/Night School, in which Tati performs some of his classic sketches on the set of Playtime.(Director: Nicolas Ribowski. 1967. Colour. 16mm. 30 mins.)

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