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Mon Oncle Antoine (1971)

by on 2012/07/29

“His boots are still too big for you.”

* * * *

Set against the backdrop of Christmastime in 1940’s Quebec, most of Mon Oncle Antoine takes place in and around a general store. Serving a small town caught midway between mining and logging, it frames the antics and drama of life as seen by a boy named Benoit (Jacques Gagnon).

The movie follows a loose structure with little narrative thrust, and a “mosaic” realism. It thus captures the diversity of an era more easily caricatured. It takes focus to get through, yet offers various interesting rewards. They usually involve some adolescent mischief, but also have other surprises: suffering, despair, and even eroticism. They fit neatly into the coming-of-age tradition.

In fact, bared breasts and drunkenness notwithstanding, this National Film Board classic felt very much like a class-time-filler I would have been shown in my grade school days. It boasts a certain lack of polish common to those quaint projections. It’s stagey, and sometimes on-the-nose, with theatrical performances and production.

Significant glances are exchanged, the view judders closer, and the music swells to an obvious crescendo. These moments appear with disconcerting frequency, especially the awkward zooms. Fortunately, the unpretentious craft lends an air of authenticity, rather than conveying a distracting incompetence.

I was rather taken aback by the acknowledged sexuality amid the more conventional desperations. Life and death in a working-class town is not where I expected to find the tentative clumsiness of pubescent exploration. However, it went from unexpected to verging on creepy when elders observed, commented, or interfered. Given the youthful protagonist, using the camera as raconteur seemed less intrusive when adults were not involved.

Overall, Mon Oncle Antoine was a tad deliberate for me, but still worth seeing for gentle historical fare. It could make for an interesting counterpoint to Bob Clark and Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story, for they struck me as similar in many ways. Just be advised, Antoine is slower, darker, and comparatively adult.

Because, after all, leg lamps have nothing on breasts.

* * * *

Rated 14A

104 minutes

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