Set in cold rural Quebec at Christmas time, we follow the coming of age of a young boy and the life of his family which owns the town's general store and undertaking business.Written by
Steve Richer <email@example.com>
The first in the line of Canadian coming-of-age films that included Lies My Father Told Me, Who Has Seen the Wind, Les bons débarras and Léolo, Claude Jutra's 1971 masterpiece Mon Oncle Antoine has remarkably endured as one of the most admired of Canadian films. Set in the snow-covered landscape of Quebec in the 1940s, the film is notable for the tenderness and humor it brings to its story of the loss of innocence of a teenage boy and the awakening of Quebec to its dream of independence.
Benoit (Jacques Gagnon) is a 15-year old boy who has lost both of his parents and is being raised by his Uncle Antoine (Jean Duceppe) and his wife Aunt Cecile (Olivette Thibault). Antoine is the owner of a small general store in an asbestos-mining town who also serves as the village undertaker, and the film poignantly depicts the townsfolk in the rural village on the eve of their annual Christmas celebration. We learn from the outset that the mine owners are English-speaking and the French minorities are treated as second-class citizens, the clouds of contaminated smoke emanating from the mine signaling the unfairness of the system.
The film moves from comedy to drama and back again. Benoit discovers the village priest as he surreptitiously takes a nip of liquor, sneaks a look at a haughty neighbor, Alexandrine (Monique Mercure) as she tries on a corset, and innocently discovers his attraction to a teenage girl, Carmen (Lyne Champagne), who also works in the store. The turning point of the film, however, is the stunning sequence in which the young boy travels on horse and carriage with his Uncle into the winter countryside where they are to retrieve the body of a teenage boy who has succumbed to his illness.
This scene underscores Benoit's initial encounter with death, his awareness of his uncle's alcoholism, and the betrayal he feels when he discovers his Aunt's infidelity upon their return. Mon Oncle Antoine is a memorable and timeless classic and the freeze-frame when we recognize Benoit's transition from childhood innocence to a grudging maturity is as powerful as any including Francois Truffaut's The 400 Blows.
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