Mon Oncle ★★★

I think as a polemic about "modern technology" Tati's musings less resemble The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction and more your dad complaining about instagram or whatever. That's not to say that this film is a complete and utter failure, but I still find that the cartoon humor (some gags seem conservative and condescending enough to make it to a Farside comic) somewhat tedious. I consider Playtime and Trafic to be near-masterpieces of immeasurable influence, but at this point, the filmmaker was only beginning to shed the trappings of the Hulot hijinx.

I revisited this with a particular focus on the house occupied by Hulot's sister and nephew. From memory, I was somewhat infuriated by its one-dimensional "modernity" which is of course, as incompetent and vapid as the consumer-driven public that embraces it. Still, there's some truth to be found in this house. Tati's separation of Hulot's "old world" from his family's "modern one" seems exaggerated, but the imagined boundary between them (a deteriorated gate - ) doesn't even need to exist in the present. Now, the modern castles aren't tucked away from the more "gritty" architecture, instead they violently impose their power over them. Walk through Bed-Stuy, The Mission, Corktown, et al and you'll have no problem picking out which buildings were erected in the past 10 years. In fact, the central house in this film bears a somewhat striking resemblance to an overwhelming fortress located in San Francisco's Potrero Hill, which neighbors the aforementioned Mission District.

The big difference between Mon Oncle and the present day is that these spaces don't exist in separate worlds. Tati's charmingly archaic residence would, at least in America, sit right next to his sister's frigid cave of modernity. This, specifically, is not a criticism of the film as it is a little unfair for a filmmaker to anticipate the future, but it does lead into why I think something like Playtime works far better. In that film, public space isolates us. The miniature city that Tati threw all his expenses into constructing creates the same distance as this house does, without of course, being physically distant. The problem is not that private spaces are lacking personality, it's that public spaces are becoming private themselves.