Following a pair of films (Stavisky, Providence) that were more conventionally narrative than his explosively experimental early works (Hiroshima, Mon Amour, Last Year at Marienbad), French New Wave pioneer director Alain ... more »Resnais began a cycle of films beginning in 1980 (all written by Jean Gruault) that delved deeply into his philosophical and aesthetic concerns again. The first of these was Mon Oncle d'Amerique, starring Gérard Depardieu as one of three middle-class characters undergoing great degrees of personal stress. Presented as a docudrama of sorts with some pulp-fiction qualities, these parallel tales don't really resolve themselves within their own borders but gain another dimension of subjective resolution when Resnais ushers in a real-life scientist to discuss certain kinds of behavioral triggers in humans. The results are actually very satisfying and witty for viewers who can see the overt psychological elements not as a smug commentary on the action but a means of opening the action to a viewer's subconscious experience. Resnais takes the bold step of creating a new kind of filmed story here, and largely succeeds. --Tom Keogh« less
Poor DVD quality aside, this release is WELL worth the price
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There are certain directors whose films can survive even the worst video transfers, and Resnais is one of them. Not that New Yorker Video should not be chastized for giving us yet another scandalously poor video and audio transfer of a classic film. Rather, one should not let the poor DVD quality deter one from buying this DVD, as Resnais' MON ONCLE d'AMERIQUE is masterful and argueably the director's greatest achievement. To be completely honest, in my humble opinion Resnais is the greatest living director. For what it is worth, I have seen everyone of his feature films, including everything in the 80s and 90s, and I find this picture to be the most compelling. Having carried out his most rigorous investigation of the time and memory of personal consciousness in "Je T'aime, Je T'aime," Resnais' work in the 70s undergoes a gradual shift in emphasis toward a time and memory belonging to community. At the risk of sounding overly reductive, one might locate the decisive moment of this shift in "Providence," in which the radically subjective, stream of consciousness narrative is completely undermined in the film's epilogue. In reflecting on Mon Oncle d'Amerique, I think it is paramount that one sees the film in the context of this decisive shift (which is not to say that Resnais simply abandons his earlier project). The film produces some of the most extraordinary images of time and memory reconfigured from the standpoint of community, and argueably marks the director's crowning achievement. One need look no further than the opening sequence in which a camera circles around a canvas comprised of still shots from scenes in the film, such that already at the film's outset the viewer is confronted with an image of the whole. Having laid out this context, I strongly disagree with the general presupposition, betrayed in Maltin's summary and many of the customer reviews below, that Resnais has somehow attempted here to illustrate the behavorial theories of Henri Laborit. Resnais himself (in the DVD notes) expressly rejects this reading, which is nowhere corraborated by the film itself. He explains that in the film he has tried to set the biologist's theories and the narrative side by side, such that the two elements can co-exist, without either one dominating the other. The unmistably ambivalent tone of the ending testifies to the success with which Resnais has executed this vision. The superb direction and screenplay are supported by an outstanding score and an excellent cast. I cannot recommend this DVD more highly."
The erratic behavior of the human...
LGwriter | Astoria, N.Y. United States | 08/26/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Resnais' penchant for film as cognitive experience first and foremost here comes to the fore, although emotion is certainly on display as well. The three main characters of the film--an actress turned fashion industry stylist (Nicole Garcia), a media executive (Roger Pierre), and a textile middle manager (Gerard Depardieu)--all undergo changes in their lives that intertwine with the theories of human behavior put forth by Professor Henri Laborit, a famed French psychologist and scientist, who plays himself in the film.
Bearing in mind that the film was made in 1980 and that psychological theory has advanced significantly since then--largely founded on one after another breakthroughs in neurobiology/neurophysiology--this is nevertheless an entertaining piece of cinema whose theme is really how we respond to external circumstances--specifically, those that could potentially be very stressful.
For some people, a specific circumstance will be manageable; for others, it will be tremendously stressful. In this film, all three main characters respond to various experiences as very stressful ones, and consequently exhibit behaviors reflecting that: attempted suicide, psychosomatic illness, emotional outbursts. Laborit comments on the reason for this stress, which is primarily the inability to dominate (i.e., control) a situation. Regardless of new discoveries in neurophysiology, his statement is absolutely true, and Resnais fuses Laborit's voiceover discussion with interrelated events in the lives of the three main characters that illustrate the scientist's words.
Once in a while, Resnais gives human characters the heads of white lab rats to wittily capture Laborit's points (not for long; just a few seconds or so). Yet in spite of this visual cleverness, the dexterity of the lead actors embodying the emotional intensity they experience given certain changes in circumstance is truly skillful.
What's also interesting is that, early on, two of the three characters profess their love of past French film stars--in particular, Jean Marais and Jean Gabin. When each of these two (the Nicole Garcia character and the Gerard Depardieu character) are confronted with these changes in circumstance, Resnais cuts to a snippet of a scene from a film starring Marais (for Garcia) or Gabin (for Depardieu) in which the viewer can easily tell the emotion experienced by the older actor. This is, again, a clever cinematic device that adds to the film's richness.
Rated one of the best films of the 1980s by numerous film critics, Mon Oncle D'Amerique is a substantial piece of work that bears a number of viewings. It's easy to see why the critics voted this way.
Resnais' best film as far as I know.
Karl Ericsson | 116 65 Stockholm Sweden | 01/27/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I haven't seen 'Smoking and Non-Smoking' and not that singing film he did recently, but otherwise I'm pretty well informed about Resnais and amongst his other work I rank this film as being his best.It lacks many of the 'arty' touches, that Resnais otherwise and most regrettfully endulges in. This one tells it to you straight - most people live lives that resembles what rats do in captivity or otherwise. The comparison is most amusing but there is a very serious side to it as well. In the end Resnais states: "As long as we do not realize that we use the cortex of our brains chiefly in order to dominant others, then nothing can change." Power'full' (powerless really, since directed against power) words indeed. People break their necks in order to fit in or make a career, which in truth is as rediculous as when Stan Laurel speaks of it in that wonderful short "Their First Mistake". When will this madness of competition between people cease in order to leave room for a competition directed towards your own ability to enhance your consciousness instead? When will competition for competitions sake alone cease, a competition which does not even care about what it is competing about, as, for instance, present competition of market economy, which is just a competition about the 'skills' of cheating one another? That is the question and Resnais doesn't have the answer but at least he poses the question."
New Yorker Does well by Resnais
unhelpful | 12/06/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Finally! An affordable New Yorker home release! One of Alain Resnais' more accessible - and funny - films, "Mon Oncle d'Amerique" is also one of his last to find an American distributor. The transfer is less than scintillating, with a picture earning maybe a 2 or a 3 (5 being the highest rating), and the sound getting a 2 or lower. But New Yorker has "enhanced" the subtitles, making them yellow and enormous. Since this is a talkative movie, the subtitles often threaten to subsume the entire picture. But until Criterion deigns to remaster it (with optional subtitles), this is the best we could ask for."
Who Are We?
Alex Udvary | chicago, il United States | 08/11/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Mon Oncle d'Amerique" is a film that explores and tries to explain some very profound things. Who are we? What makes us do the things we do? Is human behavior really predictable?
These questions in the hands of another filmmaker, say Ingmar Bergman or Andrei Tarkovsky, could have been turned into a somber chamber piece that most audiences members would describe as "bleak". But, in the hands of French filmmaker Alain Resnais we have a film that is at times joyous and carefree. The movie blends elements of drama and comedy so effortlessly we sit and wonder why can't more films be like this.
Gerard Depardieu, Nicole Garcia and Roger Pierre star as the three leads characters whose lives will intertwine. As we see of the story of their lives, the soundtrack plays Prof. Henri Laborit (who also appears in the film as himself) as he explains human behavior. We then immediately get the connection. These characters are really pawns that we be used to take on greater dimension. It isn't so much their story we are watching, but instead our story.
Rene Ragueneau (Deparddieu) grew up on a farm, and pretty much had his life planned out for himself. His father wouldn't to give him and his brother the farm after he dies. One day Rene stands firm and tells his father he is not going to follow in his footsteps. Rene has other plans for his future.
Jean Le Gall (Pierre) is running for Prime Minister. He comes from a wealthy family, they even have their own island. Which is where Jean was born and spent most of his childhood. Jean is married with two children, but is having an affair. And he even leaves his family for the other women.
That other woman is Janine Garnier (Garcia) a young actress who grew up as a member of the young Communist club. Her parents never wanted her to become an actress but Janine was determined to follow her dreams.
"Mon Oncle d'Amerique" is not just about human behavior. I also felt the film explored elements of the effect art plays on our lives. Rene loves to watch movies with Jean Gabin. Janine is an actress. Through-out the film Resnais inserts clips from various movies that correspond to the characters emotion. Does life imitate art or art imitate life?
And as for the title, all three characters speak of an uncle from America. But the uncle is never shown. Perhaps there never really was an uncle. America is suppose to represent an idea. A place of freedom. An escape.
The film was written by Laborit and Jean Gruault, who worked several times with other great French directors. Namely Francois Truffaut on such titles as "Jules and Jim", "The Wild Child", and "Two English Girls". He also worked with Godard on one of his best films, "Les Carabiniers".
For those unfamiliar with Alain Resnais, he was at one time a highly experiemental filmmaker and part of the French New Wave with titles "Hiroshima, mon amour" and "Last Year at Marienbed". "Mon Oncle d'Amerique" would find Resnais playing around with story structure again. And many feel it was the best work he did since 1967's "The War Is Over".
In the end "Mon Oncle d'Amerique" is a movie that makes us laugh and think. It never takes the subject matter too serious. The film never becomes a lecture, yet it is thought provoking.
Bottom-line: One of Alain Resnais best films. An ambitious films that doesn't over reach. A thought-provoking, highly entertaining piece of work from a great director."