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Mon oncle d'Amérique


Mon oncle d'Amérique (Alain Resnais, 1980)
Art House Rating



Resnais teamed up with scripter Jean Gruault (The Wild Child) and scientific author Henri Laborit to create one of his most open, inviting films with this, even though it's obviously a Resnais film and will ask its viewers to work to get the maximum pleasure from this film. After all, you don't want to watch a flick and become filled with anguish, do you? This movie begins with Laborit explaining how different forms of life survive and react, and eventually he settles on humans and the four basic ways their brains respond to stimuli, based on their upbringing and its relationship to societal standards. We then see the quick intercuting of the early life stories of the three central characters whose lives all eventually intersect in the late 1970s: the fiftyish politician Jean (Roger Pierre) who suffers from kidney stones, the 30-ish Communist actress Janine (Nicole Garcia), and the 40-ish accountant René (Gérard Depardieu) who strives to rise above his station.

Laborit quite convincingly explains that man's four basic "natural" responses are for survival (food, water, procreation), distinction between pleasure and pain, "fight or flight" (the need to conquer a foe or escape from a stronger one) and inhibition (which causes anguish which leads to many physical illnesses and perhaps even suicide). The intercutting between the three characters and Dr. Laborit lasts a full half hour, and it also includes all the characters' favorite film personalities; for Jean, it's Danielle Darrieux (Madame de... herself), for Janine, it's Jean Marais (Jean Cocteau's Beast and Orpheus), and for René, it's Jean Gabin. After the half hour, the film falls into a more "normal" pattern of editing and storytelling, although it's still unclear how the characters relate to each other and the scientist.

While this film maintains Resnais' preoccupation with how the past influences the present and future, it adds totally new elements to his filmography. The fact that a real scientist is basically describing the story of humankind through these three characters and utilizes rats in cages being indoctrinated to stimuli to show you how rats and humans behave similarly based on their education makes this film especially unique. For fans of David Lynch's Inland Empire, this film has humans with rat heads running around the real world and their homes (in the equivalent of their cages) more than 25 years earlier, plus there is a world-renowned scientist trying to explain why they do it! Resnais works in several new editorial techniques (yes, they reappear near the end of the film too!), but this film just seems much more human, and hard as it may be to believe, much more funny than the earlier films in this thread. Although the movie does get quite tragic near the end, it contains more outright laughs than any Resnais film I've seen, and it's often because Laborit is just so deadpan about what humans do and why they do it that when you see actors doing it to recreate how rats in cages act it's a bit weird but much more liberating and humorous. Mon oncle d'Amérique may well be the "lightest" Resnais film, and therefore, his open door to a new group of prospective fans. I recommend you check it out.