WARNING! WARNING! WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD — THOUGH I RECOMMEND THAT YOU AVOID THE FILM REVIEWED HERE.
This is a review of Mon oncle Antoine, a 1971 French-Canadian film. The film is set at Christmastime in a remote village in Quebec, the main adornment of which is the mountainous pile of dirt leavings (or whatever they’re called) at an asbestos mine.
The story starts with Jos Poulin working at the mine. Jos doesn’t like the job, so he quits and goes to work at a logging camp. Jos doesn’t like that job either, so he wanders home.
In the meantime there’s Benoit, a 15 year old who lives with his Uncle Antoine and Aunt Cecile. Antoine and Cecile own the general store, and Antoine is also the local undertaker. Antoine and Cecile employ a clerk named Fernand, who is also the undertaker’s assistant. They also employ a girl of about 15 named Carmen, who lives with them. Her father drops by on payday to collect Carmen’s pay. Carmen seem to be an unhappy person. She and Benoit lust after each other, but nothing comes of it.
Benoit is an altar boy. He drinks from the bottle of communion wine, then he watches the priest do the same thing, so that’s okay.
On Christmas Eve, Jos’s oldest son, Marcel, dies. Jos doesn’t know this because he’s still slogging home from the logging camp. Antoine goes to fetch the body, but he takes Benoit instead of Fernand with him for no discernible reason other than to allow Cecile to play Cougar to Fernand. So she does. And they do.
Antoine and Benoit set out by horse-drawn sleigh to collect Marcel’s body. Although it’s the late 1940s (or the late 1960s, judging by the shortness of Carmen’s dress), Antoine doesn’t seem to have an automobile. But if he had one the main event of the film wouldn’t have happened, and the film would be more pointless than it is.
The main event is this: After arriving at the Poulin house with the pine box for Marcel’s body, Marcel’s mother offers Antoine and Benoit a meal, of which Antoine partakes in a rather crude fashion — grunting and belching all the while. Oh, he’s also drinking from the 1.5 litre bottle of grappa (or something more lethal) that he brought along for the trip. Antoine and Benoit get Marcel’s body into the pine box and onto the back of the sleigh. And off they go, as Antoine continues to chug the bottle of grappa. When Antoine falls asleep (or into a semi-comatose state), Benoit decides to liven things up by stirring the horse into action. Now the thing that I expected to happen does happen. The pine box containing Marcel’s body slides off the back of the sleigh.
Benoit brings the sleigh to a halt about 100 feet from the box. After pounding on Antoine to bring him to half-awakeness, they trudge to the box, which Antoine is unable to budge because his muscles have turned to mush after so many oral doses of grappa. He cries about his wasted life.
Antoine and Benoit return to the store — which, cozily, is also where Antoine, Cecile, Benoit, Carmen, and Fernand live. Benoit, of course, opens the door to Cecile’s boudoir to find Fernand there. Some muttering (but no violence) ensues before Fernand and Benoit set off to retrieve the box. Benoit, amazingly and despite the remarkable event that has just befallen him, can’t remember which of two possible routes to follow back to the box.
Well, it doesn’t matter. Because they eventually arrive back at the Poulin house, sans box, which has somehow transported itself into the Poulin’s parlor. There, the wandering Jos and his family are kneeling around the open box, staring at the dead Marcel. And wondering, no doubt, why the hell they agreed to act in such a pointless film.
But maybe they knew that it would someday be voted the best Canadian film of all time. I’d hate to see the second-best one.