Mon Oncle Antoine (My Uncle Antoine) Reviews
Bref, Mon Oncle Antoine a le don de rendre nostalgique n'importe quel québécois. L'hiver, la neige et les tempêtes, le mononcle qui parle joual et qui se saoule le soir de Noël. Le film est directement tiré du terroir québécois, parfois même on ne croit plus voir une fiction mais bien une sorte de documentaire.
L'univers de fête de vieux films comme la Guerre de Tuques (plus récent), viennent chercher cette magie des fêtes enneigées et ses souvenirs enfouis dessous.
The film is a sort of slice-of-life picture that takes place in an asbestos mining town in Quebec sometime during the early 1940's. It's a humble working class town with miners unrightfully taken advantage of by the American mine owners. This critique is covered in the very beginning minutes of the film in order to establish a setting, but from there the film goes from something more personal than political.
Benoit (Jacques Gagnon) is the wide-eyed orphan that takes center stage. He's 15-years-old and lives with his Uncle Antoine (Jean Duceppe) and Aunt Cecile (Olivette Thibault). The family owns a general store in town, and Uncle Antoine also works as the town's undertaker. Benoit, who serves as an assistant, begins to develop an attraction to Carmen (Lyne Champagne), a young girl who works at the store. It's not only Benoit who has his sights set on Carmen, however, as Fernand (Claude Jutra), another employee of the store, pursues her despite being twice her age.
The main action of the film is a rather unforgettable sequence. On the night before Christmas, a boy not much older than Benoit dies in a nearby town. Antoine heads out to retrieve the body with Benoit. The journey is marvelously filmed - it's a surreal struggle against a blizzard in a completely enveloping white landscape.
Something about "Mon Oncle Antoine" didn't quite work for me. The film feels very cold (no pun intended) and calculated, and I didn't develop any sort of connection with any of the people in town. The performances are good, but the film never seems to come alive. That being said, however, I was fascinated by the brilliant cinematography and direction, and was entertained throughout, albeit unattached.
Promising start focuses on a man named Joe, who is sick of working for an English Asbestos mining company, so much so, that he decides to leave home (apparently not the first time) to go off and join a logging camp for six months. The scene where his wife finds out and they end up making love one last time before he goes is touching and romantic - the choice not to use dialogue a wise one.
Unfortunately, the story switches focus to a General Store, owned by Antoine, and its' collection of employees who are not terribly interesting and barely sketched in as people in the first place. Failing to juggle multiple characters with any kind of wit or finesse, the film loses its' focus and scenes drag and lack power and opportunities to exploit dramatic situations are botched or ignored altogether.
The last forty minutes are the most effective, as they concern Benoit and his uncle Antoine's journey by horse and sleigh to recover the body of Joe's fifteen year old boy - who fell ill and died. General store indeed. While this journey leads to Benoit's awakening to his own mortality and his loss of innocence - particularly concerning his faith in his own Uncle and Aunt as figures of authority - it also suffers from a lack of richness in the writing and shooting and, most importantly, in the performance of the actor playing Benoit. Though he seems physically ideal for the role, his performance is wooden and doesn't draw you in emotionally.
It's place on many a Top Ten Canadian Film list is a mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes.