Mon Oncle Antoine

"Excellent"

Mon Oncle Antoine Review


Time and time again, Mon Oncle Antoine has been hailed as "the greatest Canadian film of all time." Before you start trying to compile a list of Canadian films in your head, rest assured that even if it isn't the "greatest," it is certainly great, great enough, in fact, for the Criterion Collection to honor it with a 2008 two-disc DVD release.

Co-written, directed, and co-starring Claude Jutra, the film humbly covers just two days around Christmas in a miserable eastern Quebec asbestos mining town sometime in the early 1940s. While Americans may miss the political undertones, Canadians can easily relate to the hostility between the English-speaking mine owners and the Quebecois miners who are treated with disrespect. Released in 1971, the film has been regarded as one small impetus for -- or reflection of -- the Quebec separatist revolution that raged throughout the '70s.

Politics aside, the film is also a brilliantly detailed slice of life as seen through the eyes of 15-year-old orphan Benoit (Jacques Gagnon), who lives and works with his general store-owning Aunt Cecile (Olivette Thibault) and Uncle Antoine (Jean Duceppe). The quiet but observant and charming Benoit spends his days stocking shelves and also assisting Uncle Antoine in his role as the village undertaker. Benoit also flirts with another young boarder named Carmen (Lyne Champagne), who enjoys flirting back.

Not much happens in a town where the biggest Christmas excitement is gathering around the general store window to watch Cecile arrange a manger scene. The townsfolk, mostly miners, congregate at the store to shop and gossip. An engagement is announced. A rich lady comes in to try on a new corset. Benoit takes it all in, escaping to the attic with Carmen to cop a quick feel. On Christmas Eve, the grim-faced mine owner rides through town on a horse-drawn sleigh disdainfully hurling Christmas stockings into the gutter for kids to pick up as their parents shoot evil looks his way. That's life in the town.

On Christmas Eve night, however, a boy Benoit's age dies a few towns over, and Benoit and Uncle Antoine head out with a coffin on a long cold sleigh ride to retrieve the body. All of a sudden we learn of Bernard's fear of death, his resentment toward his drunken uncle, and his uncle's resentment toward the world in general. The journey takes on an Odyssey-like gravitas as all sorts of compelling themes suddenly start to develop and intertwine. It's fascinating moviemaking and utterly unforgettable.

Jutra, who co-stars in the film as Fernand, a store worker who has a dalliance with Aunt Cecile, directed five films but was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in his early 50s before apparently committing suicide in 1986. That's sad because Mon Oncle Antoine proves that he had a way with the camera and a way with characters. One wonders what more he would have achieved had he had more time.

DVD Note: The 2008 Criterion Collection release includes two documentaries about the making of the film and its history along with interviews and essays.

Aka My Uncle Antoine.

They'll be comin' round the mountain.



Facts and Figures

In Theaters: Friday 12th November 1971

Distributed by: Criterion Collection

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

IMDB: 7.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Claude Jutra

Producer: Marc Beaudet

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