But the Little Tramp had a certain clumsy elegance to him, whereas M. Hulot is anything but little. He is big and gawky and always in the way. He doesn’t fit, both in literal physical terms and in terms of society. Tati made four films starring M. Hulot—M. Hulot’s Holiday, Mon Oncle, Playtime, and Traffic—and from Mon Oncle onward they set themselves the task of exploring the theme expounded in Chaplin’s Modern Times: man’s battle with technology. M. Hulot is a Luddite, perhaps even a Poujadist (Poujadism was a brand of reactionary conservatism popular in France in the ‘50’s). He is also what the Russians would call a “superfluous man.” There is neither room nor need for him in French society.
Now, I have just seen Tati’s Mon Oncle (1958)—on which, fun fact, Pierre Etaix served as assistant director; this was before he made his own feature films— and while it was pleasant enough, I did not enjoy it as much as I’d thought I would. Part of the problem is that Tati takes his animus against technology too far. Now, don’t get me wrong, nobody hates technology when it doesn’t work more than I do. But on the whole I love technology. I love air conditioning and central heating. I love my laptop and my internet. I love my dishwasher and my refrigerator and my washer/dryer. All of these things make a positive contribution to my quality of life. I suspect Tati would despise them all. In Mon Oncle, M. Hulot’s main adversary is the high-tech, futuristic house of his wife and brother-in-law. The house, which is beautiful and which I would love to live in, is fall of gadgets and has a button for everything. Hulot can’t handle it (and to a certain extent, neither can his relatives, even though they’re quite proud of it). But if one got a handle on it, I think it could be convenient and pleasant.