I had no idea what this movie was even about when I went into it, or even whether it was French or French Canadian – though my Canadian friends set me straight on that in a hurry when I mentioned I was about to watch it. It’s set in a French Canadian mining community in the winter. Right off the bat, an altercation between miner Jos Poulin and the English-speaking bosses of the mine set him off to work as a logger over the winter instead. I kind of wished the film focused more on him, but his story is just intercut with the main one, which is about the general store owner Antoine and his family, especially his nephew Benoit, who works at his uncle’s store and through whose eyes we see most of the rest of the film.
It’s largely a down to earth slice of life story about this little town and the people in it, with a dose of coming of age for Benoit. He shyly flirts with the girl who works at the store, joins an older boy to peek at a customer trying on a corset, and then fatefully goes with his uncle to pick up the body of one of the Poulin boys, who live far away from the town (Antoine is also the community’s undertaker). Not a lot of note happens for a long while, really, but once the film settles in on Benoit, it’s quite enjoyable.
The scene where I really started to like it is when the mine breaks for Christmas and the whole community gathers joyfully in front of the store to see the Christmas display unveiled. It’s what I would call quintessential Americana if the film were American – Canadiana, I guess? Maybe there’s a similarity to small working class communities like this that transcends borders. Anyway. That scene is lovely, and warm, and funny, and that really put me on the film’s side despite being a little confused at the beginning with the opening that focused on Jos Poulin. There are a lot of other great little moments like that, like when the girl’s father comes only to demand her entire wages, and Antoine refuses to give him everything, holding some back for her. Little snippets of stories beyond our story, of life outside the frame.
The long trip to the Poulin’s, though, is revelatory for Benoit. Not only for seeing and handling the boy’s dead body, but on the way back the body slips off the sled thanks to his antics and he discovers his uncle is too drunk/tired to help recover it – and that his uncle has been carrying a lifetime of unhappiness with him that he never knew about. The denouement is rather sobering (no pun intended), and the ending abrupt. I won’t say I totally understood what Benoit underwent in those last few moments, but it’s still quite effective in its ambiguous way.
Mon Oncle Antoine wasn’t an immediate and unmitigated favorite, but I found it strangely pleasant and comfortable to be in, despite the people and situations not always being pleasant and comfortable, and I feel it will grow on me with time.
Stats and stuff…
directed by Claude Jutra, written by Claude Jutra and Clément Perron
starring Kathleen Hanna
I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how Mon Oncle Antoine entered my chart:
Mon Oncle Antoine > The Ugly Dachshund
Mon Oncle Antoine > The Graduate
Mon Oncle Antoine < Magnolia
Mon Oncle Antoine < Drop Dead Gorgeous
Mon Oncle Antoine < Robin Hood (1922)
Mon Oncle Antoine > La dolce vita
Mon Oncle Antoine < Dead Again
Mon Oncle Antoine < The Lego Movie
Mon Oncle Antoine < Yojimbo
Mon Oncle Antoine > Take Shelter
Mon Oncle Antoine < Gone Baby Gone
Mon Oncle Antoine < Das Experiment
Final #854 out of 3663 films on my chart (77%)
It is now my #1 Claude Jutra film, my #42 Coming-of-Age film, my #38 Family Drama, my #5 Rural Drama, and my #7 film of 1971.
Mon Oncle Antoine was recommended by Josh Haysom, a friend from the Flickcharters group on Facebook. Averaging together this #854 ranking with my #904 ranking of his other film, Viridiana, gives Josh an average ranking of 879.
A few quotes…
Jos Poulin: Hello, kids. Listen… I’m going up to the logging camp. Be good to your mother. Try to give her a hand. I’ve gotta go. I’m fed up with the mine. It’s different up there. Peace and quiet. The woods, the snow. No boss to get on your back.
Aunt Cecile: [Carmen is scattering fake snow over the nativity scene] No, don’t put snow on yet, sweetheart. Wait till Baby Jesus is in place. First I place St. Joseph. Now for the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus in the center. The nativity scene is so beautiful this year.
Carmen: Jesus doesn’t look too good.
Aunt Cecile: No, he doesn’t. He had an accident. We dropped him. But he’s so small, it won’t show.
Benoit: Uncle! Uncle! Uncle! Uncle! Uncle, wake up! Wake up! We lost the body. We’ve got to get it. We lost the body! We’ve got to get it!
Benoit: [Benoit and his uncle Antoine try to recover a casket that has fallen off their sleigh. Antoine is in a drunken state] Don’t let go!
Uncle Antoine: I can’t, Benoit. Sometimes you just can’t.
Benoit: Yes, you can! My arm’s in a cast and I can do it. We’re almost there. Don’t give up. You can do it.
Uncle Antoine: [Dejectedly, and in a drunken stupor] What am I doing here, Benoit? I’m not happy. I’m not made for the country. I hate it here. I wanted to buy a hotel in the States. Your aunt wouldn’t let me. She says no to everything. I’m afraid of corpses. I’ve been afraid of corpses for 30 years! I work for everybody. Your aunt never gave me a child. I have to take care of other peoples’ children. I raise Carmen and you. Haven’t I done all I could for you?
A few more screenshots…