Mon oncle Antoine (1971)

 

 

Director: Claude Jutra

Starring:  Jacques Gagnon (Benoit),  Lyne Champagne (Carmen), Jean Duceppe (Uncle Antoine), Olivette Thibault (Aunt Cecile), Claude Jutra (Fernand, Clerk), Lionel Villeneuve (Jos Poulin), HlPne Loiselle (Madame Poulin), Mario Dubuc (Poulin's son), Lise Brunelle (Poulin's daughter), Alain Legendre (Poulin's son), Robin Marcoux (Poulin's son), Serge Evers (Poulin's son), Monique Mercure (Alexandrine), Georges Alexander (The Big Boss), Rene Salvatore Catta (The Vicar).

A 15 year old boy come of age in a mining town in rural Quebec prior to the 1949 Asbestos Strike.

 

Good movie.  This is a slice of life story centering around a young boy, Benoit (Jacques Gagnon), and his relationship to his Uncle Antoine (Jean Duceppe) and his Aunt Cecile (Olivette Thibault), who run a general store in a small rural town in French Quebec.  We only see the town in winter when there is a lot of snow and cold.  The town is dominated by the local asbestos company.  As in most small towns, everyone knows everyone else's business.  If you are real sociable that's great, but if you aren't, it can be oppressive.  Uncle Antoine and Aunt Cecile are very sociable.  Their general stores seems to be the hub of the community.  At Christmas time many towns people gather in front of the store just to see the unveiling of the new Christmas window display. 

Uncle Antoine has a problem.  He is a bit hen-pecked by Aunt Cecile and he is an alcoholic.  His constant drinking may help his store a bit because it aids his sociability.  And he always has liquor on hand to give to customers who want to cheer a new event, such as a wedding engagement.  But it can also interfere with business as he can be a little negligent as the movie shows. 

Benoit is privy to the town news because he works in the store for his aunt and uncle.  He has a crush on Carmen (Lyne Champagne), a young store clerk, while another store clerk, Fernand (Claude Jutra).

Another character in the story is that of Jos Poulin (Lionel Villeneuve) and his family.  "Joe" is a big man who is fed up with work at the asbestos mine.  He provides the only insight into the future asbestos strike in his interaction with his English boss who he hates, along with other English men. Jos has a large family and his burn out from his work does not help the family. 

 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

 

1949 (Feb. 14)  --  miners walked off the job at four asbestos mines near Asbestos, Quebec and Thetford Mines.  The larger company was the American firm Johns-Manville.  The miners demanded the elimination of asbestos dust inside and outside of the mill; a fifteen cent an hour general wage increase; a five cent an hour increase for night work; a social security fund to be administered by the union; the implementation of the Rand Formula and "double time" payment for work on Sundays and holidays.

The owners rejected the demands.

1949 (February 13)  --  the workers voted to strike. The leader of the strike was Jean Marchand. 

The National Federation of Mining Industry Employees and the Canadian and Catholic Federation of Labor supported the strikers. 

Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis sided with the companies and the provincial government sent squads of police to protect the mines.

Johns-Manville called in strike breakers and this led to violence between the owners and the strikers.  A big change in Quebec happened when the Catholic Church switched sides in the dispute from the owners and the government  to the strikers. 

1949 (June)  --  the workers returned to work with few gains, but in the long term their conditions and wages improved.

The strike is taken as the starting point for great changes in Canada.  Three of the principal supporters of the strike, the strike leader Jean Marchand, journalist Gerard Pelletier, and journalist Pierre Elliott Trudeau, later known as "The Three Wise Men" began significant political careers.  Trudeau later became the Canadian prime minister. The three men largely established the direction of Quebec federalism for a generation.

The three men were leaders in what became known as Quebec's "Quiet Revolution" of the 1960s which brought such changes as the rapid secularisation of society; the creation of a welfare state, and an increase in the feeling that Quebec had a unique self-identity (reflected in the change in what Quebecers called themselves: from Canadien franais to Qubcois.

 

 

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