REVIEWS

The way Claude Jutrafilm maker, artist, free man-sees Quebec

JOHN HOFSESS March 1 1971
REVIEWS

The way Claude Jutrafilm maker, artist, free man-sees Quebec

JOHN HOFSESS March 1 1971

The way Claude Jutrafilm maker, artist, free man-sees Quebec

REVIEWS

FILMS

JOHN HOFSESS

THE BIG DIFFERENCE between the artist and anyone else is that the artist isn’t afraid of freedom. We commonly say the difference is talent. Saying that a man such as D. H. Lawrence is more talented than we are isolates him; the more we praise him for his genius, the more we excuse ourselves for being unlike him. To recognize the artist principally as a free man, who has cultivated his imagination, explored life and, dreading neither failure nor censure, persevered in recording his discoveries, would bring him reproachfully close to our own lives. We can easily pardon ourselves for lacking talent, but how can we excuse the forfeiture of our freedom or the banality of an unenterprising life?

Claude Jutra is an unmarried, unmortgaged, 41-yearold film director who has spent most of his life in down-and-out flats in Montreal. In Mon Oncle Antoine, a $450,000 National Film Board feature to be released this month, Jutra has created an important new Canadian film. It isn’t magic or the result of mysterious artistic gifts; Jutra’s distinctive vision is rooted in the freedom he has claimed for himself. Where other men took wives,

had children and accepted a daily round of responsibilities, Jutra did not; where other men mapped their futures and tried to make life conform to their ambitions, Jutra accepted the future as open-ended and uncertain; where other men have forsaken many of their youthful enthusiasms and grown to think more and more like their peers, Jutra has cultivated and refined his individuality until today he is a man of singular vision, a mature artist. He is, in all probability, an average man, but step by step he chose a different way of life, forsaking his family’s wealth, gambling that someday he would make a major film. He is literally a “bachelor of art” and with his new film Mon Oncle Antoine he stands on the threshold of fame.

Jutra’s first two features, A Tout Prendre (1963) and Wow (1969) are not well known outside Quebec. A Tout Prendre, produced for $50,000, is the best Canadian feature film of the early Sixties and tells a semi-autobiographical story of the director’s love affair with a black model named Johane. Not the least of the film’s merits is its sophisticated acceptance of abortion and interracial love. If it had received commercial

showings in Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver it might very well have been hailed as the Goin’ Down The Road of its day.

Wow, Jutra’s second feature, was produced by the National Film Board for $80,000, played for three weeks in downtown Montreal and then was quietly retired. Apart from a showing in French at the 1970 Canadian Film Awards (where two of the five judges didn’t speak French) and a number of film society engagements it hasn’t been seen in the rest of Canada. Wow presents a group of teen-agers discussing drugs, sex, parental and social problems, interspersed with surrealistic sequences in which they act out their favorite fantasies — returning to infancy, becoming a pop star, running nude down a main street in Montreal during rush hour, and so on. While superior to virtually every other Canadian “youth” movie, from Sydney Furie’s A Dangerous Age (1957) to John Trent’s Homer (1970), Wow suffers the usual fate of such films: it cannot rise above its superficial subject.

Mon Oncle Antoine was shot in Black Lake, Quebec, and covers the events in a young boy’s life as he approaches the changes of adolescence. It is familiar territory for movies, but not since François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows has the story been told with as much subtlety, charm and sensitivity. Jutra says, “It is basically a true story, using nonprofessional actors, to which I have added fictional devices, such as giving an unconnected series of real-life events a unifying plot.”

Mon Oncle Antoine records patterns of Canadian life that are contemporary, but centuries old. The film views events through the eyes of Benoît, a 14-year-old boy employed by his Uncle Antoine, owner of the town’s general store and its undertaker. Through Benoît (played without child - actor affectation by Jacques Gagnon) we observe a boy’s growing knowledge of the world, his first brush with death, the

first stirrings of sexual desire, his bemused observations of the adults around him with their bouts of drunkenness and adulteries. Unlike Don Shebib’s Goin’ Down The Road or Gille Carle’s Red, which dramatized the conflict of cultures in technological society, Mon Oncle Antoine takes place in a small town not yet reeling under the impact of “future shock.” Its story is undramatic, and Jutra’s unfolding of it is even anti dramatic, but in its nuances and finely detailed observations of human nature it is a fascinating film.

“Other film makers like to attack society,” says Jutra, “but I like to sing songs about my country. It is in so many ways a beautiful country. Mon Oncle Antoine is a film ballad.”

Mon Oncle Antoine presents a face of Quebec that few Canadians have ever seen, one that is more durable than its political contretemps. Mediocrity may grab the headlines but beneath the unrest it requires a visionary of great talent to give us a glimpse of serenity. We need the insights and human warmth of Mon Oncle Antoine. We’ve had enough of terrorist hacks and murderers. □