Mon Oncle Antoine (My Uncle Antoine) (1971)
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I have such a soft spot for films like these: meandering, atmospheric, almost light, but with very definite and powerful currents beneath it. Mon Oncle Antoine is set in a cold, rural town in Quebec around Christmas (c. 1950 perhaps), and it tells a small story that could be called that terrible cliché: "coming-of-age".
So many different things are considered 'coming of age' that it's hard to state what that phrase means exactly. In the case of this film, it refers to a succession of seemingly unconnected, natural events that amount to an undeniable turning point: as if, in an instant, someone removed a carpet from under our feet and we were forced to jump into a realization, something we had never been aware of before. This all sounds very vague but comes across very clearly in Mon Oncle Antoine...
Benoit, a young boy, lives with his aunt and uncle. He helps them run the town's Magasin General and undertaking services. When the film begins, snow is falling and the town is getting ready fro Christmas; Benoit's Aunt meticulously prepares the shop's window displays, and he helps arrange the decoration and paper wrappings. A day before, he had helped his Uncle arrange the funeral of an old miner. So goes his life, a perfectly liveable and perfectly unexciting doing and undoing of little tasks. However, a combination of subtle experiences, including one with another young shopkeeper, and the mission to collect the body of a 15 year old boy several miles of snow away, bring him to a confrontation with the faces of life that had been hidden all along before. It's the old "loss of innocence" theme, regarding sex in one hand and death in the other, but told so wonderfully it only really sinks after credits roll.
This film is more mood than performance-driven; in fact the actors are so natural they almost go unnoticed, given the lack of eccentricity or any particular spectacularity in the characters themselves. If there is one remarkable thing it is Benoit's facial expression as his own awareness of passion and horror begin to expand. What I found most charming of all was the cinematography and creative use of camera movements, all supported by an awe-inspiring backdrop of both menacing and tranquil snow. The indoors scenes are filled with warmth and a feeling of community and familiarity so, somehow, the film is successfully alienating and inviting all at once.
Mon Oncle Antoine is certainly one of the most delicate and heartbreaking films about change and... yes, "coming of age" I've seen. I think at all ages people have to come to terms with something new, perhaps disagreeable and unexpected. That's why I don't think this kind of film ever loses its relevance. Watch it on a cold night with a glass of liquor and you'll be all right.
This movie is from both the 1997 Toronto International Film Festival and it Spine No. 438 in the Criterion Collection. Its about life in a Small Quebec Village around Christmas time, pretty much features a 12 year old boy living with his Uncle, a cute story, I'll give it 4 Stars
I believe this is the only Jutra that I have seen and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is amazing what drama can be brought forward from the residents of an otherwise simple industrial town.
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