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In French the word
comédien translates as actor, while comédie is, simply, comedy in English. With this linguistic link between the players and the comedy genre it's hardly surprising that the French are really good at cinema comedy. After all, it goes right back to the Lumière Brothers, the fathers of modern cinema.
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Mon oncle
Mon oncle
Mon Oncle, starring and directed by Jacques Tati, is a classic of French cinema that also won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1958. I knew of it, but not very much about it, so everything came as a surprise when I started watching. At first I thought it was a silent movie, since although there was a very lively soundtrack nobody was speaking, or at least when they did speak it was for the most part inaudible. As things developed there were snatches of clearer dialogue, but I was left with the impression that Tati wanted to convey everything from the action. There is a Chaplin feel to this film.

Monsieur and Madame Arpel live in an ultra modern house, which is very un-French, with a geometric garden, minimal furniture and an automated kitchen that would have been extremely futuristic in 1958. Meanwhile everything around them is very French. A small town with run-down houses, a market and a tabac with les mecs passing the time of day drinking coffee or beer.

The Arpels have a son, Gérard, and his uncle is Monsieur Hulot, the eponymous Mon Oncle. Monsieur Hulot is the antithesis of the Arpels. He lives in an apartment at the top of a strange building that at first appears to be two properties, until we see Mr Hulot make his tortuous way to his apartment by way of different staircases and balconies. Once there he adjusts his window such that the sun's reflection is on a canary's cage attached to the wall of the building. The sunlight causes the bird to sing, and he experiments moving the window back and forth, listening as the bird bursts into song and then goes quiet again.

Monsieur Hulot is a gentle man, always with his pipe in his mouth, and politely helping people as he makes his way around the town. His relaxed demeanour endears him to Gérard, who much prefers his uncle's company to that of his father. The boy's life in the Arpel's clinically clean house is unappealing, and he would rather be out with his uncle, riding on the back of Hulot's motorised bicycle.