[Originally published in Movietone News 26, October 1973]
“Quebec, the asbestos-mining region, not too long ago.” A gray arc of mineral dust flumes through the air and a red pickup sits at the brink of a cliff. A middleaged man gets out of the truck and crawls underneath, grumbling profanely about the lousy maintenance; a conventionally handsome, cleancut young man gets out the other door and observes. Uncle Antoine, of course, and the sensitive young protagonist looking on as if already lost in reflection upon a present that is becoming the past. No. The man is not anybody’s uncle and, although he will come to loom as a symbolic figure in the film, he is not even a major character. The young man we shall not see again. Such an opening is characteristic of Mon Oncle Antoine, and also characteristic of its singularity. People who get up and leave movies that don’t zap them within ten minutes will surely get up and leave Mon Oncle Antoine. People who get up and leave movies that don’t zap them within ten minutes deserve to miss the rich experience that rewards those willing to let the life of Claude Jutra’s movie and Uncle Antoine’s town define itself in its own very good and lived-in time.
Without appearing to interfere with the existence of this film-world and its inhabitants, to plant any detail that wasn’t already growing there and gathering itself toward fruition, Jutra achieves a remarkable four-dimensional sense of human reality. The main body of the film takes place on the delirious day before Christmas and the sobering Christmas morning that follows; but with virtually no taint of the allegorical jampacking that faintly compromises American Graffiti, for instance, Jutra gets the months- and years-deep feeling of lives that intersect, run parallel, diverge and commingle. An altar boy prankishly takes a nip of communion wine and later observes his priest having a rather more desperate swig of the same. A (we know it) confirmed/condemned bachelor of a storeclerk fantasizes surreptitiously at the flopping heels of his employer’s fiftyish wife and gingerly joins her in a duet hummed over the toting of the monthly bills. A barely pubescent lad, fresh from the heroic adventure of pelting the mineowner’s carriage horse with snowballs, exchanges a glance with a girl in the street and knows he is loved, and accepts being loved. Small miracle piles upon miracle, and soon this place, this life, this time is yours as well as theirs. A cart passes and a crate of beans slides off, inadvertently to feed an impoverished family; a sleigh bucks in the snow and, the clouds parting an instant to let through a ghost of moonlight, a boy’s coffin lies abandoned in the road. Mon Oncle Antoine, resolutely unschematic and formally profound, is a hearth film for wintry seasons.
MON ONCLE ANTOINE
Direction: Claude Jutra. Screenplay: Clément Perron; adaptation by Perron and Jutra. Cinematography: Michel Brault. Editing: Jutra, Claire Boyer. Music: Jacques Cousineau.
The Players: Jacques Gagnon, Claude Jutra, Jean Duceppe, Olivette Thibault, Lynn Champagne, Lionel Villeneuve, Monique Mercure.
Copyright © 1973 by Richard T. Jameson