Mon Oncle | Jacques Tati | 1958
Tati movies are aircraft ammo for execrable formalist zigzag shot-by-shot drudgery, a form of film crit that works at an experiential inverse to its subject by supplanting fun/breezy/colorful/funny with anvils of cast iron verbiage to stub your toe on or trip over or get flattened by.
I re-watched Mon Oncle on the near-eve of the start of a new job and I vacuumed all theory from my memory-banks (as best I could) and was gripped by what is the movie equivalent of those big colorful activity books I used to read as a kid, where each two-page spread is a maze to be traced through or a diorama to get lost in or a weird deconstructive puzzle that cross-sections the world into its joints and parts and inner-mechanisms. Tati is the only director who could have adapted ‘Where’s Waldo’ for the screen!
Cross-thesis: Autonomy is anomaly! For both the happy homemaker bores and jollifying gesture-lobbing fruit vendor folks alike! They all lack faces. I mean you mind’s-eye any of these people and it’s just these faceless miller-abouters whose bodily expressions, animated as they are, don’t extend to anything facially expressive. Most long-shot cinema doesn’t really mannequin-ize or silhouette or just all around depersonalize (figuralize?) human subjects the way that this movie does. Which is cool, cuz it’s such a sweet, gentle, relaxing, rocking-chair movie with lovable characters and treacly little situations (i.e., a totally human movie! not soggy, sickening soul-sucking sociology!). But it arrives at those things by getting you – the exalted viewer! – to extract them from a distance, by observing an ant-farm overview of communal interactivity, midday labor, the throwaway rituals of everyday life and relearning the nested joyfulness of these monotonies. It’s not an ‘in spite of’ thing or even a daring feat of artistry. It’s just a reminder that you don’t have to do big sentimental wide-eyed mugging to enforce the oft-ignored (cuz not tailored to the star-system subconscious of Hollywood filmmaking???) universal truth that fingertip-nosetip contact is poignant, that handclasping without eye contact is poignant, that uncle and nephew sharing a bicycle is poignant. etc. etc. etc. Not to mention, of course, all the things that are funny that require no facial acting, which prompts a disquisition that I’ll leave David Bordwell to elaborate into an award-winning textbook.
Oof that paragraph was long…but the most fun I’ve had writing film criticism in ages! Anyway, I’m on my way to my new corporate hangzone tomorrow, just like Hulot!
EDIT: Couldn’t publish this last night cuz of Internet issues, so I just got back from work and sad to say I’m not gonna inadvertently buck the system into laughs for all the way my main man Hulot would, but it’s still gonna be a sick-ass gig!