The Warm Absurdity of Old vs. New in Jacques Tati’s ‘Mon Oncle’

Reject modernity, embrace slapstick comedy.
Mon Oncle

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay on the duality of old and new in Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle.

Affable and bumbling, Monsieur Hulot (Jacques Tati) adores his top-floor apartment in a decrepit, crumbling corner of the city. Like him, it has character; a tattered but ultimately full-hearted space with well-loved bricks, mouse-holes, and clotheslines. Monsieur Hulot can’t wrap his head around why his sister (Adrienne Servantie) and her family have moved to the suburbs. Their ultra-modern house is a nightmare to him; a puzzle box of round-edged automation that creates new problems in the effort to solves ones that don’t exist in the first place. Nevertheless, Hulot ventures forth into the gated technocratic community to steal away his spunky young nephew. But Hulot’s sister has other plans: and devises a scheme to win her brother over to her way of life.

Sharply directed and co-written by Tati, 1958’s Mon Oncle is an impressively uncynical consideration of the pros and cons of tradition and modernism. Steeped at the intersection of the chaotic and the cute, Tati lovingly sets forward a comedy full of commentary devoid of a mean spirit. Tradition is warm but hampered by the romanticized nostalgia keen to glaze over prejudice. Modernization has a mind towards advancement but in the process pratfalls senselessly into absurdity. Lightly, and with a grin, Mon Oncle asks what it would look like to preserve our blemishes while clunkily trying to be better. As the video essay below underlines, Tati believes it is possible for these two realities to exist side by side. As for his goofy avatar Monsieur Hulot: the classist consumption of the bourgeoisie is no match for the great equalizer of buffoonery.

Watch “Mon Oncle – The Duality Of Old & New”:

Who made this?

This video essay on the duality of old and new in Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle is by You Have Been Watching Films. United Kingdom-based writer Oliver Bagshaw produces the channel, creating video essays on an assortment of films, from cult to classic strains of cinema history. You can subscribe to their YouTube channel here.

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    Meg Shields: Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).