Mon oncle d’Amérique
DIRECTOR: Alain Resnais | WRITERS: Jean Gruault, Henri Laborit | CAST: Gérard Depardieu, Nicole Garcia, Roger Pierre, Nelly Borgeaud, Pierre Arditi, Gérard Darrieu, Philippe Laudenbach, Marie Dubois, Henri Laborit | France
I’ve long resisted seeing Mon oncle d’Amérique again, mostly because I’ve been afraid I’d be embarrassed about how much I liked it when it first came out. “How could you have liked such pretentious crap?” is what I imagined I’d be asking myself, if not worse. So I was pleased to see that not only did I like Mon oncle d’Amérique the second time, I loved it, and what struck me then as a really bad directorial misjudgment — actors in rat costumes — still grated on me if not quite so much. The movie is essentially a dramatization of the behavioral psychology theories of real-life behavioral psychologist Henri Laborit, who’s on hand in the movie as himself to describe these theories as seen in nature and observed in the lab with rats before we see them acted out in the intersecting life stories of three fictional characters of quite different backgrounds and life trajectories. Each of the three characters idolizes a different French movie star of the past, and at crucial points in their narratives we see representative clips from their movies — this reinforces Laborit’s theory about influences so deeply embedded in our psyches that even as we’re replicating the (in this case fictional) actions and behaviors of others we’re mostly unaware that we are doing just that. (Something like that.) Poor farm boy turned middle management for a textile manufacturer (Gérard Depardieu) idolizes Jean Gabin. Wealthy bourgeois boy whose family owns grand houses and small islands off the coast of Brittany who grows up to be an opportunistic and probably right-wing politican (Roger Pierre) worships Danielle Darrieux. And the girl from a working class Communist family who rebels by becoming a moderately successful stage actress then stylist for an international consumer goods conglomerate (Nicole Garcia) idolizes Jean Marais. It all sounds very abstract and artificial, predetermined even, and it is, but only up to a point and I think that is the point. Or one of them. Extremely well-acted by all concerned and Resnais keeps a absolutely firm grip on the choppy narrative.