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Mon oncle Antoine

Mon oncle Antoine

(My Uncle Antoine)

Year: 1971
Language: French
Format: 35mm Colour
Runtime: 104 min
Director: Claude Jutra
Producer: Marc Beaudet
Writer: Clément Perron
Cinematographer: Michel Brault
Editor: Claire Boyer, Claude Jutra
Sound: Claude Hazanavicius
Music: Jean Cousineau
Cast: Olivette Thibault, Lionel Villeneuve, Lyne Champagne, Jacques Gagnon, Jean Duceppe, Monique Mercure, René Catta, Benoît Marcoux, Hélène Loiselle, Claude Jutra
Production Company: National Film Board of Canada, Gendon Films

Benoît (Gagnon), an orphaned 15�€'year-­old boy, moves to a small mining town in eastern Quebec to live with his Uncle Antoine (Duceppe) and Aunt Cecile (Thibault). The couple own and run the general store — the nerve centre of the village — and Uncle Antoine is the town's undertaker.

It's Christmastime and most people are in good spirits except for Jos Poulin (Villeneuve) who must leave his family to work in a logging camp. On Christmas Eve, the townspeople gather at the store, and Antoine presides over the festivities. A telephone call from Madame Poulin (Loiselle) interrupts the celebration — her son has died and Uncle Antoine must leave to fetch the body.

Benoît leaves on the sleigh with his uncle, and after collecting the boy's body, they face a snow­storm. Uncle Antoine has been drink­ing heavily and after reflecting on the bleakness of life falls into a stupor. Be­noît tries to control the sleigh but can­’t; the coffin falls into the snow. Unable to lift it by himself, he drives back to the store for help and finds his aunt in the arms of Fernand (Jutra), the store clerk. Fernand returns with Benoît for the coffin, but Jos Poulin has already found it and returned home. When Benoît returns home to the village, he watches the bereaved family stand­ing around the dead boy's coffin through the store window in one of the most memorable images in Canadian cinema. Throughout the film, young Benoît quietly observes the hypocrisy, joy, despair, carnality, class tension and strange melancholy of the adults who surround him.

Mon oncle Antoine is a perceptive, subtle and emotionally devastating portrait of pre-Quiet Revolution Quebec. Jutra traces the vast personal and political fissures about to tear open the rural Catholic heartland in Quebec. The film’s episodic narrative structure and inspired use of landscape make this portrait of a sad, wintry town at the end of innocence unforgettable.

Consistently rated by critics as the best Canadian feature ever made, the film won 14 awards including Grand Prize at the Chicago Film Festival and eight Etrogs at the Canadian Film Awards. It is one of the few Quebec films to have reached a wide theatrical audience in English Canada, and anglophone critics were impressed by its universality of theme. It was also a critical success in the United States, Britain and France. Reportedly, one of the largest audiences ever for a Canadian film watched its first broadcast on television.

The critical reception in Quebec was considerably more mixed. There were complaints about a muddled script and confusing point of view, and Jutra's failure to pay more than passing atten­tion to the social context. It did, however, do extremely well at the box office and led directly to the big-budget production Kamouraska.

Mon oncle Antoine was identified as “a culturally significant film” by the AV Preservation Trust through the 2000 Masterworks program, and was restored and re-released in 1998 by the Toronto International Film Festival Group’s Film Circuit with the participation of the NFB.