Jan 7, 2008

Outreach Programme Screening : Mon Oncle

Jacques Tati's Mr. Hulot Ventures Into Suburbia...
And Disrupts...Disassembles...And Demolishes
With His Very Subtle Satire

Mon Oncle
A Film By
Jacques Tati
117 minutes, French with English subtitles
13th January 2008
Aruna Thirumana Mandapam , Opp Spencer’s , NSR Road , Saibaba Colony.

Five years after Monsier Hulot’s Holiday proved a major critical success, Jacques Tati and Monsieur Hulot returned to cinema screens across the world in Mon Oncle, a film which proved to be one of the cinematic highlights of 1958. As with Tati’s previous film, Mon Oncle delighted the critics and was a commercial success. The film won not just the Special Jury Prize at Cannes but also an Oscar (in the best foreign film category).

One of Tati’s favorite themes is our enslavement to technology, or more precisely, how technology makes us do ridiculous things. in Mon Oncle, the central family lives in an ultra-modernized home. Everything is button operated and the layout is a cross between a space station and a museum. It is all for show, of course; the dolphin fountain in the front yard is activated only when guests arrive, causing the porcine matron, Madame Arpel, to rush maniacally to her master control switch each time the doorbell rings. For Tati, repetition was an inexhaustible source of comedy. Watching Madame Arpel push the same buttons over and over again is like watching a circus animal perform the same trick. We are mesmerized by her mechanical, inhuman quality.

Click here to see Tati in the kitchen ecene

Most of the characters in Mon Oncle, with their bizarre costumes and stiff body language, look and act robotic (with the exception of Monsieur Hulot, of course). The secretary at Monsieur Arpel’s plastics factory walks with a metallic clip-clop which clearly announces her arrivals and departures. We don’t think of her as a human; she is an institutional creation designed to serve her masters. To a certain degree, we watch all of Tati’s characters with a similar level of impassivity. There isn’t a single close-up shot in either movie. Observing them from a distance, we may at times empathize with his characters, but seldom do we like them very much.

We do, however, benefit from the presence of Tati in the form of Monsieur Hulot. Never the center of any of his movies, Hulot is part of a larger ensemble cast, and more often than not, he is deliberately placed off to one side of the screen or is partially concealed. His elusiveness makes him all the more likable; it’s as if he has stumbled quite by chance into his scenes. Tall and gangly, Hulot is so likable that we hardly notice that he is virtually mute. Adults regard him as a curiosity, a kid who never grew up, while children take to him almost immediately. Eventually, his personality grows on everyone.

Tati was a perfectionist who designed each shot with excruciating levels of precision. He planned all the details in advance, even if most of them would go unnoticed by the audience. Tati took particular pride in the use of sound effects, which is somewhat surprising because he had his start in silent films, and before that, in live theater. He created specific sounds for each object in his movies, and he would repeat each sound over and over again as a way of giving personality to that object or to the place where it is found.

Not only is Mon Oncle an a greatly entertaining piece of cinema, it is also frighteningly prophetic. Almost fifty years on, the charming world inhabited by Monsieur Hulot has all but disappeared and, to a greater or lesser extent, we have all ended up slaves of technology, much of which is of dubious benefit. To this audience, watching Mon Oncle can be a poignant experience. As we laugh at the exploits of Monsieur Hulot and his inability to adapt to a changing world, we see something of ourselves and perhaps nurture a secret yearning to return to a simpler, less technologically orientated way of life.

Screening supported by Hollywood DVD Shoppe, NSR Road , Saibaba Colony

Jacques Tati
October 9, 1907 – November 5, 1982

Jacques Tati is one of the great comic icons of French cinema, a Gallic equivalent of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton, whose works as director, writer, and actor are regarded fondly by audiences as well as harder-to-please critics. Like a true auteur, Tati essentially made only one kind of film, in his case, the physical comedy. There is little to no dialogue in his movies, and the action, frenzied but tightly choreographed, is invariably set to a breezy musical score. The main protagonist of all his movies is also his screen alter ego, the ubiquitous Monsieur Hulot who, with his pipe and trenchcoat, eventually came to personify the Tati canon. From 1953 to 1974, Tati played Hulot a total of five times, winning an Oscar and two Cannes prizes along the way. Two of the best known Hulot films, M. Hulot’s Holiday (1953) and Mon Oncle (1958 They represent Tati at peak form. They are precisely calibrated films that successfully merge farce with darker social commentary.

Jacques Tati was born Jacques Tatischeff, the son of Russian father Georges-Emmanuel Tatischeff and Dutch mother Marcelle Claire Van Hoof, in Le Pecq, Yvelines.

After a career as a professional rugby player, Tati found success as a mime in French music halls. In the late 1930s Tati recorded some of his early supporting cameos on film with some success and thus began his career as a filmmaker. One of his short films, L'École des facteurs (The School for Postmen) provided material for his first feature, Jour de fête. His films have little audible dialogue, but instead are built around elaborate, tightly-choreographed visual gags and carefully integrated sound effects.

In all but his very last film, Tati plays the lead character, who - with the exception of his first and last films - is the gauche and socially inept Monsieur Hulot. Tati's comedic work, most notably in Mon Oncle, Playtime, and Trafic include Western society's obsession with material goods, particularly American-style consumerism, the pressure cooker environment of modern society, the superficiality of relationships among France's various social classes, and the cold and often impractical nature of space-age technology and design.

Tati’s Playtime (1967) was his most ambitious project, Tati invested everything he had in the film, even going so far as to create a set the size of a small town (nicknamed Tativille). Tati, who had used up his own financial resources and turned to friends and relations for money, would be paying of the debts he had accumulated in making the film right up until his death.

As a result of these financial difficulties, Tati found he had lost his freedom as a director, but he still retained his creative urge. He made two further films, Trafic (1971), a satire on mankind’s ill-fated love-affair with the motor car , followed by Parade (1974), a low-budget circus-based film for Swedish television.

In recognition of his contribution to cinema, Jacques Tati was awarded a César d’honneur in 1977. Tati’s final project, Confusion, was aborted at an early stage when the director died from a pulmonary embolism, on 5th November 1982 in Paris.

Since his death, Jacques Tati’s films have grown to be appreciated by increasing numbers of film enthusiasts across the world. The style of the films, based on the language of physical comedy, makes them accessible to all cultures, all ages. They are as entertaining to children as they are to adults, whilst those who regard cinema as an art can only be impressed by Tati’s creativity, discipline and imagination. Although recognition of Tati’s genius has been a long time coming, few would now dispute that Jacques Tati is one of the greatest names on the history of cinema.

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