Mon Oncle

Jacques Tati between worlds in Mon Oncle (dir. Jacques Tati, 1958).

There's a good-naturedness in Mon Oncle that overrides any bitter satirical taste: even the insidious automated modernist home is presented as a quaint little domicile with a winsome personality underneath all the buzzing gadgets and pretentious veneer. That personality rears up at one point in the form of two huge round windows lit up at night and animated by two watchful silhouetted heads into a pair of cartoon eyes. Conversely, M. Hulot's own ramshackle apartment building is homely in more than one sense. It's an eyesore, made appealing only by the human community that thrives in and around it. Hulot's neighborhood may be romanticized in some ways, but it's not a utopia: the people there are just as silly and hapless as the nouveau riche across the crumbling dividers (in the scene above, Hulot reaches down with a gingerly hand to replace a brick he's accidentally knocked loose, restoring a smidgeon of order to the rubble), and dogs run through the streets peeing all over everything. On the other side, the shiny cars and factory complexes may be sterile, but you can tell Tati loves their lines. And during a generally painful party at Hulot's sister's air-conditioned nightmare, the bourgeois plant manager goes eagerly to work, nice clothes and all, repairing a broken water pipe in the garden so that the horrible stylized fish in the cement pond can spout water again. He climbs with a smile out of the muddy pit he has dug and declares proudly, at least it works again. Like Hulot with his brick, he's constructive in the face of entropy.

The Criterion Collection DVD also features L'ecole des facteurs (School for Postmen), a magnificently pointless 1947 Tati short with a dance scene I will store in my memory against bleak moods.

No comments: