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Mon Oncle Antoine, Movie Review Example

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Movie Review

Though Canadian cinematography rarely received international acclaim, the 1971 film of Claude Jutra Mon Oncle Antoine won the hearts of both professionals and laypeople in terms of authentic, rich, and in-depth representation of the rural life in Quebec in the 1940s. Jutra’s Mon Oncle Antoine has won a number of international awards, and it is still regarded as one of the best Canadian films. The events of the film take place in the rural Quebecois village Black Hawk surrounded by vast mountains and forests; it is a village located nearby an asbestos mine, and virtually all residents of the village are employed at the mine where they have to work in inhumane conditions and put their lives into risk for low wages. Most generally, the story is dedicated to Benoit’s coming of age of a 15-year-old boy Benoit living with his aunt Cecile and her husband Antoine, a man having problems with alcohol. Uncle Antoine runs a store in which the whole rural community gathers to share gossip and spend some time together. Throughout the film, Benoit observes the surrounding reality, people’s relationships, and changes in the village’s life, which transforms his life outlook and contributes to his maturing as a personality (Mon Oncle Antoine, 1971).

In the course of the story’s development, Benoit learns many life stories and lessons; he gets acquainted with sex and romance, learns the ugliness of spousal infidelity, and also touches upon the horror of death (Quart, 2008). However, it is notable that the director does not pay much attention to a proper design of the film’s exposition and plot; Jutra seems to be more interested in providing long and detailed close-ups of Benoit observing the life around him, mixed with long and medium shots of the shabby, outdated, and slow town degrading under the unbearable burden of hard labor at the mine. This may be partly connected with the focus on the critical realism that the director adopted in reconstructing the setting of the film. Ebert (2008) appraised Jutra’s thrive for authenticity, and indeed, the depiction of the store is one of the most successful re-creations from the depicted period. The store is very vivid, and represents a typical shopping place of rural villages of the 1940s.

Together with the external events observed by the viewers through the eyes of Benoit, the audience gradually becomes aware of the internal events as well; as the plot unveils, the town itself undergoes a transformative change from hard, senseless existence in the wilderness to comprehending the rising secular nationalism of the bourgeoisie further resulting into the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s. Benoit thus serves as a mere embodiment of these changes, as his coming of age is harmoniously coupled with the transformation of the town in which he lives. Ultimately, such a representation allows Jutra to make Mon Oncle Antoine a skillful combination of both a character study and a socio-political examination of the town in which the narrative takes place (Mott, 2012).

The images of the village are both distressing and beautiful, as Jutra reveals the mastery of combining the beauty of wild, vast nature with the human sorrow of hard toil, and the atmosphere of despair and hopelessness. Nevertheless, as Quart (2008) righteously noted, there is no sentimentality in Jutra’s portrayal of the mine village; the director is more focused on realistic representation of the Quebecois real life context and underlying social, economic, and class tensions. The most illustrative example is the scene with the mine owner giving out Christmas stockings, and throwing them carelessly for them to fall into the mud (Mon Oncle Antoine, 1971).

The present scene shows the in-depth separatism between the English and French population, between the mine owner and miners, etc., which implies the irreversibility of the upcoming “Quiet Revolution”. Mott (2012) pointed out that seeing the film Mon Oncle Antoine as a mere story of coming of age is a plain and limited vision, since Benoit in this story is only an aspect of the comprehensive story of the rural Quebec represented in a documentary-like style, with the omniscience of the director in it. Jutra’s perspective was seen by many critics as the detached critical perspective, which may be true in case such an opinion is brought to coherence with the lack of sentimentality.

The key value of Mon Oncle Antoine in the cinematography field is the possibility of analyzing it from social, political, cultural, historical, aesthetic, and artistic perspectives (Totaro, 2010). Jutra managed to show the authentic profile of pre-Revolution French Quebec residents envisioned and treated as second-class people, and urged to provide for their living with hard, inhumane labor in the asbestos mines. Hence, even in case Jutra did not make any explicit reference to the political context and inter-class tension in the rural Quebec, implicit references are felt throughout the film.

Despite the fact that the Canadian (and especially Quebecois) filmmaking tradition was characterized by production of films in the cinema direct style at the time when Claude Jutra produced Mon Oncle Antoine, this director managed to make an original personal contribution to the story, mainly through the introduction of a rebellious, critical character of Benoit (Totoro, 2010). The focus on Benoit’s character makes the perspective of the film more diversified, and distracts attention from the key issue depicted by Jutra – the context of rising Nationalist movement, the growing awareness, and discontent with the current state of affairs in the socio-political life, in attitude to French Quebec people, in English supremacy, etc.

The skillful inclusion of Jos Paulin’s character at the very onset of the film illustrates the despair and hardship of the rural worker’s life. His hard work is low paid, his son is ill because of the work at the mine (and eventually dies), and Jos himself faces an emotional breakdown and tries to moves to the woods to seek solitude (Mott, 2012). Such a depiction of a dramatic but tragically typical life of a rural miner sets the specific, unique context further analyzed by Jutra through the eyes of Benoit, which is an indeed striking story of the evolution Canada underwent in the middle of the 20th century.

References

Ebert, Roger. “Mon Oncle Antoine”. Roger Ebert (2008). http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-mon-oncle-antoine-1971

Jutra, Claude (Dir.). “Mon Oncle Antoine”. Janus Films (1971).

Mott, Parker. “Interpreting Modes of Identification in Claude Jutra’s “Mon Oncle Antoine”. The Final Take (2012). http://www.thefinaltake.com/interpreting-modes-of-identification-in-claude-jutras-mon-oncle-antoine/

Quart, Leonard. “Mon Oncle Antoine”. Cineaste, 34:1, p. 71.

Totaro, Donato. “Mon Oncle Antoine: A Truly Venerable Classic.” offscreen.com, 14:2 (2010). http://www.offscreen.com/index.php/pages/essays/mon_oncle_antoine/

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