Just in time for Black Friday, two cinematic masters playfully pillory consumerism for our weekly double feature: Yasujiro Ozu’s Good Morning (1959) and Jacques Tati's Mon oncle (1958). But these wildly different virtuosos mount opposite attacks, Ozu sweetly funny in his palpable affection for two young brothers possessed by the idea of their family buying a TV set, Tati brilliantly dry as he takes in the sterility of status-conscious bourgeois life and, as an actor, wreaks juicy slapstick havoc on his sister and brother-in-law’s automated suburban manse.
In Good Morning, it’s a treat to see the same low angles that Ozu employed for tearful adult dramas adapted for a buoyant family comedy. His close-to-the-floor shots showcase the siblings as formidable low comedians, whether they’re farting on request or communicating only with a high sign. Ozu applies a glancing satiric touch to adult small talk and reflex phrases like “good morning” (hence the title), but the action always hinges on goods bought and sold—even a neighbor’s purchase of a washing machine is enough to fuel a mini-scandal. In a crowning Ozu touch, the younger brother celebrates the boys’ ultimate victory with an international consumer icon—the Hula hoop:
In Mon oncle, Tati pays homage to À nous la liberté and Modern Times when M. Hulot, the bumbling embodiment of a more playful and organic bygone France, briefly works in his brother-in-law’s ultra-mechanized plastics factory. But the most inspired sequences take place in that nightmarish contemporary home. The façade has been described as resembling a human face, but it’s actually more like a robot’s, and for the inhabitants it’s like living among moving mismatched parts. Hulot’s nephew strives to escape with his inherently anarchic uncle at every turn. At times, the most spontaneous and attractive resident appears to be the family dog: the unselfconsciously adorable Daki, a classic low-slung Dachshund in a tartan coat. In a sequence that epitomizes Tati’s sardonic originality and Daki’s scene-stealing powers, nothing goes quite right when the man and woman of the house present themselves with perfect anniversary gifts—an automatic garage door and a pink-and-green Chevrolet: