Above is the angular silhouette of Jacques Tati and his alter-ego M. Hulot. At a time when slapstick was not considered an art, Tati brought it and his character to the fore in funny films including this 1959 Oscar winner.
Tati has much in common with the mime clowns of an earlier cinema, yet brought his own unique persona to film. Hulot is an outsider, like Chaplin's tramp, yet he blends into the crowd. Hulot is a go-getter like Lloyd's "the Boy", in that he makes things happen, but is ruled by his own inner clock. Like Keaton, Hulot perseveres against the odds, and those odds are found in the objects and people around him. Like Langdon's gentle soul, Hulot is a capricious sort.
Monsieur Hulot is adored by his nephew, and it is no wonder. Uncle Hulot lives in a friendly and raucous neighbourhood, in a room atop a strange and crooked house. The whole atmosphere is organic and humane. Nephew Gerard and his parents live in a most modern abode which is spic and span, and mechanized. Everything must be kept spic and span, and mechanized, even the inhabitants. Gerard wants to run wild with his friends, just like the pack of pooches prevalent throughout the movie. Gerard wants to have adventures with his beloved uncle.
Gerard's mother has plans for her brother Hulot. He must have a good job, a career, like her husband M. Arpel. Hulot must have a wife, just like the stylish neighbour. Mme. Arpel will arrange everything. You would think that after a lifetime she would know that nothing can be satisfactorily arranged where her brother is concerned. The only thing you can truly expect is the unexpected. Highlights in the movie include M. Hulot's encounter with his sister's kitchen, and the party intended to improve his condition.
The visuals, the colours, the sound effects, and the delicately bouncy score add much to the clever gags in Mon Oncle. If that all sounds a bit dry, do not fear, there is heart in the humour, and a final scene that unexpectedly made me tear up upon first, and even subsequent viewings.
If you haven't yet seen this movie, or Tati, do consider it this month. While commenting on the sterilized consumer society into which the world was rushing, our Hulot remains a whimsical character. You may not think sustained whimsy is your thing, but I'm sure you will enjoy the many pleasures of Mon Oncle.
TCM is screening Mon Oncle on Tuesday, February 13th at 10:00 p.m. as part of their annual 31 Days of Oscar festival. The evening's topic is Best Foreign Language Film winners.