My American Uncle (Mon oncle d'Amérique) (1980)

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Released 4-Aug-2008

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Drama Featurette-A Brilliant Career: The films of Alain Resnais
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Umbrella Trailers
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1980
Running Time 120:56
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (107:02) Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Alain Resnais
Studio
Distributor

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Gérard Depardieu
Nicole Garcia
Roger Pierre
Nelly Borgeaud
Pierre Arditi
Gérard Darrieu
Philippe Laudenbach
Marie Dubois
Henri Laborit
Bernard Malaterre
Laurence Roy
Alexandre Rignault
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $29.95 Music Arié Dzierlatka


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Alain Resnais first rose to prominence as a director while making documentaries in the 1950s. His 1955 32-minute documentary on the holocaust, Night and Fog, is still considered a seminal work in that genre. In fact Resnais did not start to make feature films until 1959's Hiroshima Mon Amour, a film that similarly dealt with the holocaust and with memories, a theme that he would explore further in 1961 with Last Year at Marienbad. My American Uncle has a similar unique premise; it is a film that doesn't have a traditional narrative structure, rather it is a cinematic expression of the theories of behavioural scientist Professor Henri Laborit.

    My American Uncle is not about someone's American uncle, although he is mentioned briefly in a scene involving Gérard Depardieu's character, René, when his wife refers to him as dying 'a failure'. It is this idea of living in a societal context and experiencing life as a successful or unsuccessful series of combating social conflicts that the film is based on. Professor Laborit's behavioural theory of evolutionary psychology and its effect on the human nervous system is portrayed in the lives of René (Gérard Depardieu), Janine (Nicole Garcia) and Jean (Roger Pierre) who all decide to make life choices against the societal norm. René leaves his family farm to work as an executive in a textile business, Janine leaves behind her working-class political family values to become an actress and Jean moves away from his upper-class upbringing to become a politician and radio station boss. The study of the individual within the context of social interaction and expectations and the choices they make and the pressure to conform is shown by Resnais through the use of intercut scenes showing Jean Gabin, Jean Marais and Danielle Darrieux and the metaphorical link to laboratory rats escaping electric shocks timed to sounds in a cage with scenes from the film showing the main characters as giant rats. Even the small snippets of classical music that accompany these intercut scenes to reflect the emotional responses of the main characters parody the sharp sound of the bell in the rat cage.

    René's matinee idol is Jean Gabin, Janine's is Jean Marais and Jean's idol is Danielle Darrieux. Each of these idols serve as each character's alter-ego. Sometimes intercut scenes show with two idols in the scene, often when conflict between the main characters arise. Incidentally, Professor Laborit plays himself in the film, serving as a narrator and analyser of events, showing the audience where each character seeks to dominate others in their social relations and where they are in turn dominated. The theory that the choices of the individual come into conflict with the societal expectation to conform is shown in the last scenes of the film whereby Resnais shows a dilapidated American neighbourhood with a building that has a huge mural on its side. As the camera closes in on the building we, the audience, lose sight of the bigger picture, and it becomes more and more unclear with each close-up shot until all we see are a splattering of colours.

    When the film portrays René, Janine and Jean as giant white rats and the link is made to them being rats in a lab running through a series of behavioural experiments, we can see that when the main characters reach a point of crisis in their lives towards the end of the film their inhibition, influenced by their upbringing and social conditioning, determines their survival (and success). Somehow, Resnais pulls off this academic and theoretical presentation without being boring. I found the film very thought-provoking and entertaining. So did the judges at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival who awarded My American Uncle the Grand Prix and FIPRESCI prize winner.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     The film has a lower than average bitrate for a standard DVD presentation, although overall it looks good for its age. The main feature takes up 4gb of space on the DVD at an average bitrate of 4.47 mb/sec.

     The aspect ratio is 1:66:1, 16x9 enhanced for widescreen televisions.

    Due to the lower than average bitrate, the film does look soft at the edges of the image and some very slight grain is evident, but this will not distract you from your viewing.

    The colour scheme is interspersed with scenes in black-and-white. These black-and-white scenes usually portray film damage; possibly this was deliberately included to represent their age. The tone of the film is similar to Francois Truffaut's film The Last Metro which also came out in 1980 but was shot in Fujicolor, whereas My American Uncle was shot in Eastmancolor.

    There is one negative (white) film artefact at the end of the film and one instance of possible macro-blocking due to compression, otherwise this film transfer is very good.

     Subtitles are in English and are easy to follow for the viewer.

     The RSDL change occurs at 107:02 during a scene change.

Video Ratings Summary
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Shadow Detail
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Audio

    The soundtrack is very sparse; there are only a few occasional snippets of music played throughout the film.

     The main audio track is in French. It is encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0 at 192 kbps.

     Dialogue is easy to follow, clear and concise.

     Music occurs as a support to each character's alter-ego when intercut scenes are shown via stock footage. This music is often confronting, short and painful. The irony here is in the fact that the music is played by a string quartet.

     There is no surround channel usage as the film is essentially mono.

     The subwoofer is not utilised either.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
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Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Featurette: A Brilliant Career - The Films of Alain Resnais - a discussion with Peter Hourigan, film tutor, CAE Melbourne, and writer for Senses of Cinema (47:21)

This is the same extra that was included with Umbrella's release of Alain Resnais' 1959 film, Hiroshima Mon Amour. Peter Hourigan provides comment on Resnais' career, from his documentary period to his cinematic period and the themes he uses in his film work. Interestingly, Hourigan mentions that Resnais has approached his work as assignments, which is remarkable because of the sincere effort that Resnais puts into all his work; his films are not soulless and disinterested as one would expect from a standard director who makes films on demand without passion for the project. This is a good extra, with most discussion centred on Hiroshima Mon Amour. There are also some intriguing insight into My American Uncle. Make sure to watch the film first prior to viewing this extra!

Theatrical Trailer

This is presented in the film's original aspect ratio of 1:66:1 without subtitles in English unfortunately.

Umbrella Trailers

Trailers are included for other Umbrella titles in French. These include great films such as Francois Truffaut's The Last Metro (2:51) and Jules and Jim (3:20), Robert Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar (2:02) and Jean-Paul Rappeneau's Cyrano de Bergerac (2:07).

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     My American Uncle has been released in Region 2 in the United Kingdom and in France. The French release comes as part of a box set or separately, whereas the United Kingdom release is similar to the Region 4 version in terms of transfer and it comes with only a single extra, the theatrical trailer. The French MK2 release has interviews with director Alain Resnais, actress Nicole Garcia and screenwriter Jean Gruault in French only. These are quality extras but unfortunately they are not subtitled. Thus, for English-speaking viewers, the Region 4 DVD release with the inclusion of the featurette by Peter Hourigan is great value.

Summary

    View this film with an open mind and then read Roger Ebert's essay on it in his Great Movies section of his website. Then, view the film again to get a better gist of the story. My American Uncle is still accessible to a viewer; it is not as puzzling as Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad for example. If you are open to viewing films that do not follow a traditional linear narrative then My American Uncle is for you.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© John Stivaktas (I like my bio)
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S550 (Firmware updated Version 020), using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA46A650 46 Inch LCD TV Series 6 FullHD 1080P 100Hz. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderSony STR-K1000P. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationSony HTDDW1000
SpeakersSony 6.2 Surround (Left, Front, Right, Surround Left, Surround Back, Surround Right, 2 subwoofers)

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