My Uncle saw the future

Feeling bored one weekend as a young teenager in the 1960s, I took to surfing television channels. What I settled on was a foreign language film which seemed like a comedy in a unique setting. In watching the film, I made a discovery that has remained with me ever since.

The film was called 'Mon Oncle' (translated from French to English: 'My Uncle'), and what a lucky find it was. From the credits, I noted the film was by Jacques Tati,  whom I later discovered was a legendary director, actor and filmmaker.

At the time, my comprehension of the film was rather youthful. I only saw a thin veneer of the film’s enormous depth of social commentary. 

It was a quirky French comedy set in the fifties that featured an ultra-modern home as the centrepiece of its plot. Monsieur Hulot was the main character in the film, created and played by Jacques Tati himself. Hulot lives a simple life in a not so trendy part of town. His sister lives a lifestyle that seems futuristic. Her ultra-modern home - with automation, minimalist spaces and the latest tech are central to her life.  Hulot struggles with the advances in home living and serves as the counterpoint.

Hulot parodies the abundant materialism and modernism, exposing the central veins of human frailties. The sparse dialogue, distorted background sounds, and Hulot's awkwardness shone. 

The film engages on a subliminal level like an impressionist painting. It prefers minimalism to connect and in so doing delivers a potent message.

Jacques Tati's work played on the notion that transformational change is inevitable and good.

Released in 1958, the film became much acclaimed, winning an Oscar in 1959 for Best Foreign Language Film. To me, Mon Oncle exposes the sensibilities surrounding home design (as does 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' - see my previous blog).

As a second-generation custom home builder, my observation is that we could still be in 1958! There is still a drive for modernism, automation and the latest shiny new tech. The result is dysfunctional and irrelevant built form. Disconnected, surreal and alienated from the wider community.

Homes should celebrate our life experiences, culture, tradition and diversity. They should mirror our aspirations and become cues for our children. Spaces should flow, connect and calm. Technology should liberate us from the tedium of repetitive tasks, not create an existence that borders on virtual.

The enemy is expediency and the drive for mass-produced homes. Through our creativity, we aim to build timeless and relevant living spaces that connect people.

Lucky for me that Mon Oncle spoke to me of the future during my formative years.

Dario Amara FIEAust, CPEng, NER, APEC Engineer, IntPE(Aus) is a second-generation builder, experienced construction, and engineering executive and chartered professional engineer with some 40 years' industry experience.  He has also served as Chairman of the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Chairman of the West Australian Opera Company and Chairman of Heritage Perth amongst other positions.

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