Mon Oncle. Dir. Jacques Tati. Gaumont (France), Continental Distributing (USA). 1958.

Mon Oncle (1958), as many of Jacques Tati’s films, focuses on the character of Monsieur Hulot, a bumbling but lovable man who fights a constant battle against the modern architecture and consumerist culture of post-war France. His use of the old cultural form of silent comedy to do so means that the film is predominantly visual, and, within this, animals are used to an extent which both echoes Hulot’s feelings and furthers the comedy.

The opening scene begins with a shot of an old French alleyway, signified by the old-fashioned lamppost in the centre. Several dogs rush in from the right of the screen and begin to sniff around. However, one of these is not like the others; he is a small dachshund wearing a tartan coat. Instantly, he is marked out from the rest as a pet as he has this mark of domesticity (the coat) on him. The contrast of red against the neutral background of the wall and the other dogs focuses the attention onto him; he is one to watch. The scene then cuts to a medium close-up of the dachshund as he forages in a bin, delicately eating out of an abandoned container.

He appears out of place within the rubbish and yet he is behaving completely naturally for a dog. However, the addition of his coat adds a comedic element to this natural action as it emphasises the difference between the feral street dogs and himself, suggesting that he is simply mimicking their behaviour.

Another scene cut, and we are shown the dogs following a horse and cart. The camera is placed behind an old brick wall and the cart is visible through a break in this. Framed in this break, behind the cart, is a modern housing development. The brick wall, dogs and horse and cart are representative of the old ways of France, set against the backdrop of architectural change.

This seems to emphasise the continuity of animals and their ability to remain a constant throughout the changing state of the human world. Jacques Tati himself claimed that was why he used them in so many of his films as they always behave predictably, suggesting that humans can ‘learn from dogs’. [1]

The difference between the domesticated and stray dogs is then further emphasised as the dachshund returns to his home, a hyper-modern development. A close-up shot is used as he squeezes through the gate, pulling his jacket halfway off as he does.

The careless shedding of his coat accentuates his importance as a non-human animal. The presence of the coat reminds the audience of the interference of humans in domesticated animals’ lives; he does not feel a need for the coat himself and does not understand what it is. Therefore, why should he wear it? The stupidity and superiority that humans show over animals, specifically those which are domesticated is displayed in this scene, emphasising the underlying theme of the film; the fight against humans attempting to control the wildness of old France and contain it within the clean and modern new France.

[1] Supraphon6, Jacques Tati – lessons from, online video recording, YouTube, 20 November 2010, [date accessed 18/11/2018].