Modernity in Jacques Tati's- Mon Oncle

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  • Topic: Mon Oncle, Jacques Tati, Modernism
  • Pages : 5 (1550 words )
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  • Published : October 9, 2005
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Anne Friedberg in Ch.2 of Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern (U of California P, 1993) discusses the relationship between the city, modernism, film and architecture. Throughout this essay, I will relate her ideas of modernity particularly in the ‘mobilized gaze' and ‘commodity-experience' to Jacques Tati's film Mon Oncle (1958).

Anne Friedberg's ideas of modernity in the ‘mobilized gaze' and ‘commodity experience' as well as the reversal of public and private spaces can be inexorably applied to Mon Oncle (1958). Their interconnectibility, and Friedberg's ideas on modernism can be observed during the 20 minute sequence of scenes in the ‘garden party' in the ultra-modern Arpel residence. Jacques Tati's Mon Oncle (1958) narrates on two opposite extremes of the social spectrum with the main characters of the Arpel family, and Mr.Hulot. The Arpels are the epitome of nouveau-riche bourgeoisie in France and represent the future, in contrast with the other main character of the unemployed Uncle Mr.Hulot, symbolizing the past.

The ‘garden party' sequence at the Arpel residence commences with a visitor. It is the greengrocer arriving in his aged truck outside the front gate. The audience is exposed to an almost proportionately perfectionist shot- where we see a clean, grayscale, modern home occupying the top left of the frame, then the greengrocer's old truck in the bottom right outside the fence. The contrasting dissonance between the two areas of the frame is symbolic of the differences between modernity and traditionality, and maintains a fascinated gaze from the viewer. As Friedberg discussed, "the tourist simultaneously embodies both a position of presence and absence, or here and elsewhere, of avowing one's curiosity and disavowing one's daily life", and "tourism provides an escape from boundaries…it legitimates the transgression of one's static, stable or fixed location" (1993: 59). Although the greengrocer is engaging in his daily duties, he is yet emphasized as a tourist to the Arpel residence. As he rings the doorbell, Mrs.Arpel turns on the ornamental garden fountain and once realizing whom the visitor is she quickly turns it off. The greengrocer leans toward the fountain with a bewildered look on his face, and after receiving payment we see scenes of him uncontrollably and yet cautiously gazing around. As if he would like to experience more of this modern world, yet afraid of what he might discover.

The above is an illustration of the mobilization of the gaze, and the disbanding of the barrier and function of private and public ways on many levels. We see by his hesitant body language that he does in no way feel ‘at home' in the Arpel residence, as we see his tensions ease as he moves outside its boundaries. This depicts to some extent the reversal of roles that public and private space has encountered with the advent of modernity. As Friedberg stated, "the once-private interior become a public realm, and the once-public exterior became privatized" (1993:64). This view of the Arpel residence is in great contrast to the romantic warmth of Mr.Hulot's ‘vieux Paris', we see how the modern private home is no longer atmospherically convivial. But instead is superficially and competitively judgemental towards the visitor, observed even more so as this sequence in Mon Oncle progresses.

As the ‘garden party' sequence continues, Madame Walters (the single neighbour) arrives at the gate. The audience is exposed to a shot dominated by the vertical bars of the window frame which appear like a cage, with Madame Arpel on one side. The fact that it is indistinguishable on which side of the bars the ‘cage' exist subtly communicates to the viewer that there is indeed no escaping modernization, that it is everywhere- perhaps connoting Tati's views that it is a social trap. This ambiguity is further stressed when Madame Walters is confused for a hawker and told ‘we don't need rugs'. She herself is...
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