Films & Architecture: “My Uncle”

  • 01 Aug 2012
  • by
  • Films & Architecture

This week we want to introduce a film by one of the filmmakers that cannot be out of this list. We’re talking about , the French director, writer, and actor that made his first color movie in 1958, ”Mon Oncle”.

Tati shows how the modern age affects and dramatically changes the way that people live. All the new technologies at that moment are incorporated in the scenes, were the interaction between this new concept of “modern spaces” and people is an element present in most of the movie.

What do you think about this approach of how modernity influenced (or still influencing) the way of living of our societies?


Original Title: Mon Oncle
Year: 1958
Runtime: 120 min.
Director: Jacques Tati 
Writer: Jacques Lagrange, Jean L’Hôte, Jacques Tati
Cinematography: Jean Bourgoin
Soundtrack: Franck Barcellini, Alain Romans, Norbert Glanzberg
Cast: Jacques Tati, Jean-Pierre Zola, Adrienne Servantie, Alain Bécourt 


M. Hulot (Jacques Tati) is the dreamy, impractical, and adored uncle of young Gérard (nine years old), who lives with his materialistic parents in an ultra-modern geometric house and garden (Villa Arpel) in a new suburb of Paris, situated just beyond the crumbling stone buildings of the old neighborhoods of the city. Gérard’s parents, M. and Mme. Arpel, are firmly entrenched in a machine-like existence of work, fixed gender roles, and the acquisition of status through possessions and conspicuous display. (A running gag involves a fish-shaped fountain at the center of the Arpels’ garden that Mme. Arpel turns on only for important visitors).

Each element of Villa Arpel is representational rather than functional, an environment completely hostile to the comfort of its occupants. In choosing modern architecture to punctuate his satire, Tati once stated, “Les lignes géométriques ne rendent pas les gens aimables” (“geometrical lines do not produce likeable people”). From pas japonais positioned like mine fields, to impossible-to-sit-on furniture, to a kitchen with the decibel level of a jet engine, every facet of Villa Arpel emphasizes the supremacy of superficial aesthetics and electrical gadgets over the reality of daily living.

Despite the superficial beauty of its modern design, the Arpels’ home is entirely impersonal, as are the Arpels themselves. In fact, M. and Mme. Arpel have completely subordinated their individuality to maintain their social position and their shiny new possessions. Tati emphasizes his themes surrounding the Arpel lifestyle (as well as M. Arpel’s automatonic workplace, Plastac) with monochromatic shades and cloudy days; vivid colors and bright light coincide only with the arrival of visitors, particularly Uncle Hulot.

In contrast, Uncle Hulot, the quintessential poète des terrains vagues, lives in a small old corner of the city. He is unemployed, and gets around town either on foot or on a rather tired VéloSoleX. Though he is obviously without possessions, he does not seem to notice; color, light, and frivolity inhabit Hulot’s world. Young Gérard, utterly bored by the sterility and monotony of his life with his parents, fastens himself to Uncle Hulot at every opportunity. Uncle Hulot, little more than a child himself at times, is completely at home with Gérard, but also completely ineffectual at controlling his horseplay with his school friends, who take delight in tormenting adults with practical jokes. Exasperated at their uncle’s perceived immaturity, the Arpels soon scheme to saddle him with the twin yokes of family and business responsibilities.


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Previously posted on this section…

Cite: Portilla, Daniel. "Films & Architecture: “My Uncle”" 01 Aug 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 26 May 2015. <>
  • Doug C.

    Tati is a personal favorite and it is a small irony to see him mocking “modern” architecture in this film that seems quaint or charming now, as charming to me as old Paris.
    His point is better made about architecture in Playtime where he captures the distance and corporate nature of some of the modern architecture of the early 60′s period (What Tati & J.G. Ballard share) but even that looks like it may be viewed differently in the future.
    The French company Domeau & Peres has manufactured limited reproductions of the quirky modern furniture from the film that was used for comic sequences. It’s believed that Tati had the furniture made for the film as no versions of them have surfaced:

  • Craig

    A Tati film might be you best pick yet. A great choice. Thanks for sharing. Tati’s “Play Time” would be a good one, too.

  • Samuel AB

    Tati had quite a gloomy view of modernism, but still, this movie was cute.

  • shaun

    At architecture school I was introduced to the films of Andrei Tarkovsky. Had a profound affect…

    Another film that affected me was ‘The Holy Mountain’ Caution: not for the faint of heart….

  • Michael Hadida

    Choice film, wonderful series. You must include “The Conformist” (1970) in the Films & Architecture section. Storaro’s approach to fascist architecture is masterful. It’s probably the best cinematography I’ve ever seen in a film.

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