November 5, 1958 [Mon oncle]

Jacques Tati's M. Hulot of Mon oncle stands in a slight breeze; he leans, his hat still firm--but his pipe a bit off-center in his mouth, while his umbrella stays tucked under his arm, safe from stray winds. He is in the street--and although it is Paris, he is safe, since the traffic is gone in his corner of the city, where the year is inexact but beautifully pale and streaked, an old photograph one can live in.

This is Hulot's Paris--lucky for him, a silent-movie character otherwise stuck in the Modern Age, a Paris of Tomorrow, all gadget and screech, bright and flat and cold, like poured concrete and plastic, life viewed from the comfort of an Eames chair--except without the comfort. And Hulot flees from this as quickly as he can, taking with him his young nephew, who can't wait to climb over the low crumbling wall with his oncle to get to the Old Paris, where scruffy bushes and ramshackle houses sit in soft dust, while the noisy neighbors argue without rancor.

There's a nice bit at chez Hulot: He swings open his window, hears a bird burst into song; swings the window in, notices the abrupt end of the twitter; opens it again, hears the song--and notices that his open window reflects the sun onto a bird in a cage. He leaves it open, so that the overjoyed little fellow can make his noise. It is, no doubt, Hulot himself, in a small world getting smaller--a cage he does not notice, except when he travels to his well-to-do suburbanite relatives, and sees with some concern that they, too, are trapped by their own excess.

But Hulot still has a little time left, a small corner where he can jaunt along, part owl, part stork--a bird himself. Tati has lovingly crafted a fantasy-memory, a Paris I'd live in right now, as long as it could hold the real world at bay, umbrella raised like a sword, pipe jutting in half-smiling defiance.


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