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Mon Oncle

Posted by keith1942 on September 18, 2010

France 1958. In colour, 116 minutes. French language version with subtitles: English language version My Uncle.

The film won the Best Foreign Film Academy Award in 1958 and The Special Jury Prize at Cannes 1958.

Note, Tati was involved in a car accident in 1955 and he no longer had quite the same fluidity and versatility in his body movements.

Mon Oncle is almost like a combination of Jour de fête and Les Vacances de M. Hulot. For it includes both a traditional community on the lines of the rural village in Film Tati No. 1 and, in opposition, the sterile arbitrary setting of the seaside resort that lacks a true sense of community. In the case of “Film Tati No 3” we have an old-fashioned Parisian quarter [Saint-Maur] versus the modernist, gadget-laden Arpel household and M. Arpel’s plastics factory. The dichotomy between the two worlds is much more emphatic than in the earlier features.

The Credits are presented over the scene of a construction site, an omen for later in the film.

Then there is a cut to a traditional city quarter and a pack of roaming and scavenging dogs. Canine characters occur in the earlier films but in Mon Oncle they provide a central plot and thematic discourses. Appropriately dogs share some of the characteristics of M. Hulot himself. They are part of the social scene but wilfully follow their own inclinations and ways. Humans may think that dogs are fitting into their lives, but in many cases the humans actually fit into the lives of their dogs.

In the next sequence dogs then follow a refuge cart, which leaves the old quarter, as do the dogs through a broken stone wall. The latter recurs throughout the film as a barrier between the two worlds with a skyline of tall tower blocks visible above the wall. The dogs then arrive at the Arpel house, and we discover that the dashound in the pack is the Arpel pet. A hint of subversion that will return. The Arpel house is all gleaming surfaces and excessive order. The garden is dominated by a monstrous fish fountain. And Madame Arpel appears obsessed with cleaning and maintaining order. We follow M Arpel as he drives to drops his son Gérard off at school. And then on to his factory, where the refuge cart reappears. It seems that the plastic piping, which the factory produces, is made from such waste products. The cart now returns to the traditional quarter and we encounter M Hulot and his flat at the top of a ramshackled house that is in stark contrast to the Arpel mansion.

Hulot collects Gérard after school. We then encounter a gang of boys who spend much time playing pranks on adults. A particular favourite is whistling to distract the adult so that they inadvertently walk smack into a lamppost. Their favoured territory for games is a wasteland, between the quarter and the modern district. And there a ramshackled old food stand dispenses hot, spicy [and presumably extremely unhealthy] snacks. The gang of boys, like the pack of dogs and Hulot himself, provide a stream of disruptions to the Arpel neighbourhood.

Mon Oncle has a stronger narrative than found in either of the earlier films. Part of the plot is built round the effort of M. Arpel to find a suitable job for his brother-in-law. This includes two attempts at his factory: both of which cause disruption to the processes there. Hulot is equally disruptive at the Arpel’s party, designed to show off their house to their friends and neighbours. The main gag is this sequence concerns the malfunctioning of the fountain.

But whilst Hulot is disruptive in the modern bourgeois environment, he is at ease and at home in the traditional quarter. He enjoys relaxed and familiar relations with his neighbours and the locals. As in the earlier films Hulot enjoys strong relationships with both the children and the dogs. The quarter provides an old fashioned friendly contrast to the Arpel’s high-tech modernist environment. It also provides a ‘sweet disorder’ in contrast to the alienating enforced order in the mansion and the factory.

In fact the bourgeois order represented by the Arpel home and factory is shown to be facing subversion from within. Gérard clearly prefers the company of his uncle and the gang of boys to the sterile activities in his home. And the subversive element in the factory is shown when M Arpel arrives at work with his dog. Running in front, the dashund acts as a warning to the workers, from operators, to engineers, to office secretaries who immediately cease what appears to be socialising and time wasting to present a momentary picture of work and efficiency as M Arpel passes by.

The subversion fully enters the family at the film’s closure. Arpel has persuaded Hulot to take a country post as a representative. After seeing him off at the airport father and son are involved in the whistling prank seen earlier in the film and laughingly enjoy the discomfiture of the victim together. However, this is only partially positive. As the car has passed through the old quarter a demolition team [connected to the development we saw earlier] are demolishing a building. If and when Hulot returns from the provinces his world is likely to be drastically alter. And the viewer is left with the canine pack once more wandering through the old quarter.

France 1958. In colour, 116 minutes. French language version with subtitles: English language version My Uncle.

The film won the Best Foreign Film Academy Award in 1958 and The Special Jury Prize at Cannes 1958.

Note, Tati was involved in a car accident in 1955 and he no longer had quite the same fluidity and versatility in his body movements.

Mon Oncle is almost like a combination of Jour de fête and Les Vacances de M. Hulot. For it includes both a traditional community on the lines of the rural village in Film Tati No. 1 and, in opposition, the sterile arbitrary setting of the seaside resort that lacks a true sense of community. In the case of “Film Tati No 3” we have an old-fashioned Parisian quarter [Saint-Maur] versus the modernist, gadget-laden Arpel household and M. Arpel’s plastics factory. The dichotomy between the two worlds is much more emphatic than in the earlier features.

The Credits are presented over the scene of a construction site, an omen for later in the film.

Then there is a cut to a traditional city quarter and a pack of roaming and scavenging dogs. Canine characters occur in the earlier films but in Mon Oncle they provide a central plot and thematic discourses. Appropriately dogs share some of the characteristics of M. Hulot himself. They are part of the social scene but wilfully follow their own inclinations and ways. Humans may think that dogs are fitting into their lives, but in many cases the humans actually fit into the lives of their dogs.

In the next sequence dogs then follow a refuge cart, which leaves the old quarter, as do the dogs through a broken stone wall. The latter recurs throughout the film as a barrier between the two worlds with a skyline of tall tower blocks visible above the wall. The dogs then arrive at the Arpel house, and we discover that the dashound in the pack is the Arpel pet. A hint of subversion that will return. The Arpel house is all gleaming surfaces and excessive order. The garden is dominated by a monstrous fish fountain. And Madame Arpel appears obsessed with cleaning and maintaining order. We follow M Arpel as he drives to drops his son Gérard off at school. And then on to his factory, where the refuge cart reappears. It seems that the plastic piping, which the factory produces, is made from such waste products. The cart now returns to the traditional quarter and we encounter M Hulot and his flat at the top of a ramshackled house that is in stark contrast to the Arpel mansion.

Hulot collects Gérard after school. We then encounter a gang of boys who spend much time playing pranks on adults. A particular favourite is whistling to distract the adult so that they inadvertently walk smack into a lamppost. Their favoured territory for games is a wasteland, between the quarter and the modern district. And there a ramshackled old food stand dispenses hot, spicy [and presumably extremely unhealthy] snacks. The gang of boys, like the pack of dogs and Hulot himself, provide a stream of disruptions to the Arpel neighbourhood.

Mon Oncle has a stronger narrative than found in either of the earlier films. Part of the plot is built round the effort of M. Arpel to find a suitable job for his brother-in-law. This includes two attempts at his factory: both of which cause disruption to the processes there. Hulot is equally disruptive at the Arpel’s party, designed to show off their house to their friends and neighbours. The main gag is this sequence concerns the malfunctioning of the fountain.

But whilst Hulot is disruptive in the modern bourgeois environment, he is at ease and at home in the traditional quarter. He enjoys relaxed and familiar relations with his neighbours and the locals. As in the earlier films Hulot enjoys strong relationships with both the children and the dogs. The quarter provides an old fashioned friendly contrast to the Arpel’s high-tech modernist environment. It also provides a ‘sweet disorder’ in contrast to the alienating enforced order in the mansion and the factory.

In fact the bourgeois order represented by the Arpel home and factory is shown to be facing subversion from within. Gérard clearly prefers the company of his uncle and the gang of boys to the sterile activities in his home. And the subversive element in the factory is shown when M Arpel arrives at work with his dog. Running in front, the dashund acts as a warning to the workers, from operators, to engineers, to office secretaries who immediately cease what appears to be socialising and time wasting to present a momentary picture of work and efficiency as M Arpel passes by.

The subversion fully enters the family at the film’s closure. Arpel has persuaded Hulot to take a country post as a representative. After seeing him off at the airport father and son are involved in the whistling prank seen earlier in the film and laughingly enjoy the discomfiture of the victim together. However, this is only partially positive. As the car has passed through the old quarter a demolition team [connected to the development we saw earlier] are demolishing a building. If and when Hulot returns from the provinces his world is likely to be drastically alter. And the viewer is left with the canine pack once more wandering through the old quarter.

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