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Time Out New York Project: Issue #780, September 9-15, 2010
Dir. Jacques Tati. 1958. N/R. 117mins. In English and French. Tati, Jean-Pierre Zola, Alain Bécourt.
The great French comic Jacques Tati filmed two versions of his Academy Award–winning feature, Mon Oncle — one in French, the other (mostly) in English for U.S. markets. Following its release, the American print languished in the Tati archives until 2004. Film Forum is presenting a gorgeous restoration of this version, which is no less a masterpiece than its Gallic-tongued cousin.
Tati once again plays the endearingly bumbling Mr. Hulot, who dwells in a run-down yet exuberant quarter of Paris while his relatives, the Arpels, reside in a high-tech, antiseptic suburbia. Their lives often collide thanks to Hulot’s nephew Gerard (Bécourt), who delights in hanging out with his uncle and escaping his rigidly modernist existence (even mealtime is as sterilized as a trip to the dentist).
It’s clear which monde Tati prefers, something all the more explicit in the American print, in which the “cultured” folks speak scrupulously controlled English and the old-worlders talk ebullient French. Yet the comic jabs — Tati makes brilliant use of a gaudy, gurgling fish fountain — never overwhelm the humanity of these disparate characters. A poignant climactic interaction between Gerard and his father even suggests that no amount of technological crutches can squelch mankind’s shared capacity for compassion.—Keith Uhlich