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Mon Oncle: The Criterion Collection

Jacques Tati brought back the character he introduced in his black-and-white 1953 classic, M. Hulot's Holiday for his 1958 color film Mon Oncle ("My Uncle") — and won both the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and a Special Jury Prize from Cannes for his trouble. The film's gentle humor comes from Tati's study of contrasts of modern life: Monsieur Hulot lives in a cobblestone-lined neighborhood filled with laughing children, street vendors and lively music, while across town, his sister and brother-in-law live in a sterile, ultra-moderne "house of the future," a Bauhaus-ian nightmare with space-age sculptures and an enormous metal fish fountain in the center of an artfully arranged gravel garden. They try to show Hulot the joys of their middle-class lifestyle by letting him take care of his nephew, and then by giving him a job at Plastac, the factory where the brother-in-law works — a factory whose sole purpose seems to be the extrusion of millions of yards of plastic tubing. In the hands of the American silent comedians (to whom Tati owes such an obvious debt) this set-up would degenerate into mean-spirited gags playing on physical injury and heavy-handed messages about the evils of progress. But Tati is far subtler than that, and he actually seems to get kick out of the gadgetry and sleek Space Age that he also finds so appalling, giving each gizmo its own distinct sound effect and lingering with malicious glee over the soulessness of the operating-room-like kitchen. Mon Oncle is a little cooler and less easily accessible than M. Hulot's Holiday — as Monty Python's Terry Jones says in his introduction to the film, "It may be that it's less charming than the earlier films" — but it still offers some beautiful visuals and a delightful look back at one of modern cinema's great comic geniuses. Criterion's DVD release offers Mon Oncle in the original full-frame ratio (1.33:1) and monaural audio, remastered with their usual care and attention to detail. Includes an introduction by Terry Jones and Tati's 1947 short L'Ècole des facteurs ("School for Postmen"). Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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