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aka - Mon Oncle D' Amerique
France 1980
Directed by
Alain Resnais
121 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

My American Uncle

My American Uncle is a densely structured yet remarkably fluid portrait of three people’s lives at a particular moment in French social history. Whilst this moment has passed and with it some of the film’s significance, particularly for a non-domestic audience, it is nevertheless a remarkable effort from one of the great contributors to the history of art cinema. Co-scripted by Resnais with Prof. Henri Laborit, a real-life behavioural psychologist who appears in the film in a meta-narrative role expounding his theories which are illustrated by inserts of lab rats in cages which in turn acts as a kind of commentary on the story that is being told.

Gerald Dépardieu, Nicole Garcia and Roger-Pierre play the main three characters. Each has a French film star as their alter ego - Jean Gabin, Danielle Darrieux and Jean Marais - and uses their screen identities as models for their own behaviour, Resnais regularly but briefly matching one to their ideals by inserting appropriate extracts from their films.

Resnais approaches his film like a case study, introducing us to the characters whose lives are initially portrayed separately with little apparent rhyme or reason but whose paths gradually become intertwined. Meanwhile Laborit expounds his exploration of behaviour with all the gravitas of scientific authority. This combination creates a complex weave of information that gradually becomes more manageable as the narrative progresses and something like Resnais’ purpose becomes clearer. I say “something like” because this is not a film that is easy to grasp in a single sitting and the relation between the narrative and Laborit’s hypothesis is not simply illustrative or deconstructive.

These are not matters which today might resonate as strongly as at the time of the film’s release (one might cite the films of Charlie Kaufman as an exception) but if complex, questioning film-making is your idea of a good time My American Uncle is not to be missed.




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