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Mon oncle Antoine

Michael Hayward

The first time I saw Claude Jutra’s film Mon oncle Antoine was in the mid-197s, on CBC television. This is possibly the worst way to experience any good film: trimmed to fit the 4:3 aspect ratio of TV and interrupted every fifteen minutes with commercials describing the wonderful dishes that can be made with Kraft products (who knew that Miracle Whip and Miniature Marshmallows were such versatile ingredients?). The new two-disc edition of Mon oncle Antoine from Criterion is a revelation: a fresh digital transfer that faithfully preserves the cool blues and whites of rural Quebec under snow, and the warmer colour palette of the interiors, where a single bulb makes the centre of every room a stage. Having seen the film again after so many years, I understand why Mon oncle Antoine has consistently topped polls of the best Canadian film ever made (take that, Animal House—food fight!—and Spasms—killer snakes!). We observe the events of one momentous—and yet very ordinary—Christmas in the early 194s, through the eyes of our ten-year-old surrogate, Benoît, who lives with his aunt and uncle in a small asbestos-mining town. We witness Benoît’s confusion as he experiences sexual longing and encounters death for the first time; when Benoît discovers the duplicity of the adult world we realize that his once-open gaze has become judgemental and that this is how the world of childhood is left behind forever. Included with the feature film are two full-length documentaries (one on the making of the film, the other on Jutra’s tragically abbreviated life) and A Chairy Tale, a short experimental film from 1957 that Jutra co-directed with the NFB animation wizard Norman McLaren.

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