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Film / Mon Oncle

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Mon Oncle (My Uncle) is a 1958 film by Jacques Tati. This film stars Tati in his second appearance as Monsieur Hulot (previously seen in 1953's Mr. Hulot's Holiday). The film won the 1958 Oscar for best foreign language film and was also honored at Cannes.

The film generally focuses on quiet humorous events rather than outrageous slapstick. There is little dialog and scenes move slowly with a tendency to Leave the Camera Running.

The overall theme of the film is the contrast between the vibrant life of Monsieur Hulot in his old Paris neighborhood and the bland life of his sister and brother-in-law, Madame and Monsieur Arpel, in the modern suburb that they live and work in. The Arpel's son Gerard loves to travel to the older part of the city with his uncle, but his parents see Monsieur Hulot as a bad influence. The plot of the film is a loose collection of scenes showing Monsieur Hulot's life as his sister and her husband interfere, trying to make him more respectable by getting him a job at the plastic factory and attempting to marry him to their neighbor.

Includes the following tropes:

  • Advanced Civilization, Hollow Imagination: A meta example, about a closer future and advancement than most; The film is meant as a commentary on how post-war France in the 1950s was developing into a hyper-modern/futuristic sterile shadow of itself. The house of the Arpels, heavily featured as the centerpiece of the film, is modern in design, but is also very user-unfriendly; controls have no labels, devices are not easy to recognize, the furniture is as uncomfortable as it looks. It's spick-and-span, but is also very imposing and brutalistic; everything has been distilled into its most basic forms, without regard for visual warmth and coziness. The Arpels, barring their son, Gerard, are just as uptight, hollow, inflexible, and insincere as their house.
  • Ascetic Aesthetic: The Villa Arpel and the plastics factory.
  • Book Ends: The playful dogs shown cavorting through Hulot's neighborhood at the beginning and at the end.
  • Call-Back: The kids of the neighborhood have a game where they whistle at people walking down the street and try to get them to bump into an inconveniently placed streetlight. At the end, after M. Arpel and his son have dropped off Hulot at the bus station, Arpel whistles for Hulot to come back. Hulot is gone, but a passerby is distracted by the whistling and bumps into a streetlight. The boy takes his father's hand, and they have bonded.
  • Cool Car: Tati wants us to find Monsieur Arpel's three-tone 1956 Chevy vulgar, but it's hard not to love it.
  • Girly Skirt Twirl: The teenaged girl who likes M. Hulot does this to show off her new dress.
  • Housewife: Madame Arpel is an absurd parody of one. She's polishing her husband's car as he's driving it out the driveway. She serves her husband lunch, then makes him move to another table about eight feet away so she can serve coffee.
  • It Kind of Looks Like a Face: The upstairs bedroom of the Villa Arpel has two round windows that are rather suggestive of eyes. It makes the wall look like a face, even more so when M. and Mme. Arpel each poke a head up in the window to give the eyes pupils, and even more so when they do so at night with the lights in the bedroom lit to make the "eyes" glow.
  • Leave the Camera Running: A rare comedic example that is not played for an Overly Long Gag.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Monsieur Hulot's hat, extra long stemmed pipe, too-short pants, overcoat and umbrella.
  • Malevolent Architecture: The Villa again, although it's a light comedic example of this trope. The kitchen looks like an operating room. The twin circular upstairs windows look like eyes, especially when the Arpels' heads are in the two windows, and they're looking down at the racket Monsieur Hulot is making in the yard.
  • Mistaken for Special Guest: Inverted, the special guest is mistaken for a traveling rug saleswoman due to her carpet like caftan dress.
  • The Peeping Tom: Monsieur Hulot is mistaken for this at his first job interview after a complicated series of events involving paint on his shoe leads a woman to think he was watching her get dressed.
  • Roadside Wave: A truck drives through a puddle, almost completely drenching a shopkeeper. However, the bottom of his pants are still dry... which changes when Monsieur Hulot rides by on his bicycle.
  • Running Gag: Madame Arpel turning on the fish fountain when guests arrive and turning it right back off whenever she decides that the guest isn't worthy of it.
  • Smart House: Monsieur and Madame Arpel's villa.
  • Stepford Suburbia: Lampooned via the Arpels and their neighbors.
  • Title Drop: M. Arpel is plainly jealous of Gerard's affection for M. Hulot, complaining that "It's always 'my uncle'" with Gerard.