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Modernization and Tradition in Jacques Tati’s Film Mon Oncle Essay

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Updated: Jan 18th, 2022

Introduction

Mon Oncle is a comedy film directed by Jacques Tati. It was released on 10 May 1958. It was the first of Tati’s works in color. The reception by critics was overwhelmingly good with the film winning several awards. Overall, it was the most successful work by Tati. The protagonist of the movie – Monsieur Hulot – is an individual that does not fit in the society represented in the film, yet this character is immediately easy to empathize with and understand. Hulot’s main moving force is his conflict with France in its period after the war took place, the architecture that characterizes it, and the dominant consumerism. Tati is famous for his usage of visuals that are aimed at supporting the thoughts and comedy presented in his films, and Mon Oncle is not an exception. All in all, the film is highly satirical and focuses on showing the lowest points of yet-to-be French consumer society. The modernization and traditions both find their way into the movie creating a sharp contrast to represent just into what the French society may evolve.

Representations of Modernization

Modernization finds a lot of interpretations in Tati’s work. As stated by McCaffrey, architecture becomes the most obscene in the scenes, when, for example, the Arpel family’s exposed concrete and Hulot’s “Chambre de bonne’s” obliqueness are demonstrated (203). It is also easy to see how modern architecture is needlessly complicated in some scenes. For example, when the viewer can see one of the modern houses of this world from aside.

Thus, the author is trying to convey a simple message. While France is trying to reach higher levels of urbanization, it becomes progressively harder to find any spare space to fit in the complexity of the architecture. Moreover, lack of knowledge about urban architecture drives French people to create obscene structures that cannot serve any purpose other than creating a vision of urbanized style in them.

Moreover, Moon claims that Mon Oncle “is a criticism of the inhumane environment led by technology, through visualizing the dryness of modern architecture” (92). It is important to understand that the architecture presented in the film does not only convey the message stated above; it also drives people to come farther from their traditions and their perception of the land they inhabit. Thus, through exaggerated lifeless architecture, Tati creates a vision of what may happen should this trend continue.

Representations of Tradition

Firstly, to fully grasp what role the traditions play in Tati’s film, one has to understand the background behind Mon Oncle. As stated by Haenni et al., “Tati was one of the few French filmmakers of the 1950s and 1960s to engage in a critical dialogue with the modernizing and emergent mass consumerist aspect of French society. His work is notable for its engagement with ‘new and disquieting forces infiltrating the sphere of the quotidian in post-WWII France” (354). The author intended to highlight how important it is to preserve traditions and not forget them in the pursuit of rebuilding a damaged society.

To better engage the audience, Tati fills his work with contrast presented by both how individual characters interact with each other and the “modern” architecture. For example, the kitchen scene perfectly demonstrates the struggle of traditions (a family having dinner outside) versus modernization (Hulot trying to understand how the kitchen appliance works (Callash 00:00:01-00:01:07). Hulot finds the easiest to understand a thing – a jug. Thus, one may argue that the traditions are mostly represented in the way that the characters interact rather than by using the architecture presented in the film. Nevertheless, it would be most difficult to use only one tool to represent traditions. This is especially critical for such a sophisticated work as Mon Oncle.

Tati’s desire to lean towards tradition is seen even in the way he presents the film to the viewer. Pascal points this out by stating that “Tati delivers the title of his film in a different shot: the words “Mon Oncle” written in chalk on an old brick wall, clearly part of a more traditional part of town or a vernacular adjacent suburb” (3). Thus, although characters are the primary asset to demonstrate traditions, it is also easy to notice in architecture. Therefore, traditions play a significant role in conveying the message. Using both characters and visuals, Tati can tell the audience that their cultural originality is important and must not be cast-off for something like urbanization and modern trends. Although there was a strong need to urbanize the country, this ambition was only due to the consequences of the Second World War.

Conclusion

To summarize, Mon Oncle is a complex and meaningful film that has the purpose of providing the audience with an important message. Although this may have been the prime goal, Tati did not miss an opportunity to create a visually stunning picture that creates an impact lasting enough for critics to hold this film as one of the greatest pieces of art ever created. Furthermore, the unique nature of the architecture presented in the film serves several different purposes, and each of them is achieved in full. Architecture works in conjuncture with characters’ behavior and their interaction to juxtapose traditions and modern trends.

Works Cited

Haenni, Sabine et al. The Routledge Encyclopedia of Films. Routledge, 2014.

YouTube, uploaded by Callash, Web.

McCaffrey, Enda. “The Squared Horizon. Arms, Divinity, Affect.” Cultural Politics, vol. 11, no. 2, 2015, pp. 201-209.

“Mon Oncle (1958), Jaques Tati.” YouTube, uploaded by Enric H. Web.

Moon, Guen-Jong. “Inhuman Characteristics of Modern Architecture Represented in Jacques Tati’s Films.” Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering, vol. 16, no. 1, 2017, pp. 91-97.

Pascal, Déry. Offscreen, vol. 16, no. 11, 2013. Web.

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IvyPanda. "Modernization and Tradition in Jacques Tati’s Film Mon Oncle." January 18, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/modernization-and-tradition-in-jacques-tatis-film-mon-oncle/.

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IvyPanda. 2022. "Modernization and Tradition in Jacques Tati’s Film Mon Oncle." January 18, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/modernization-and-tradition-in-jacques-tatis-film-mon-oncle/.

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IvyPanda. (2022) 'Modernization and Tradition in Jacques Tati’s Film Mon Oncle'. 18 January.

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