A feature voted by film writers in 1984 as the best Canadian film ever and a trio of movies with themes of human and animal interaction highlight the Yukon Film Society’s last Available Light Cinema offering of 2011.
Mon Oncle Antoine, the 1971 Canadian classic from Quebec director Claude Jutra, leads off the day’s films.
Set in an asbestos-mining town in rural Quebec in the 1940s, it is a coming-of-age story that represents a loss of innocence for both the film’s young protagonist and Quebec itself, in the years preceding the province’s Quiet Revolution of the 1960s.
Masterfully filmed, Mon Oncle Antoine tells the story of Benoît, a young adolescent who lives with his aunt and uncle.
In the days leading up to Christmas, his life changes forever, as he experiences his first pangs of sexuality, rebellion and a growing political awareness of his insular world, along with disgust for some of his adult role models.
Also featured in this Sunday’s program is Buck, a new documentary about Dan “Buck” Brannaman, the real-life inspiration for Robert Redford’s 1998 The Horse Whisperer.
Brannaman, along with his brother, grew up as a nationally prominent trick-roping child star. Billed as the Idaho Cowboys, they toured coast to coast and were featured in TV commercials.
Buck’s fame concealed a deep secret, however, as he grew up being routinely and unmercifully beaten by an abusive father. His youthful trials left him with an enduring sensitivity to other tortured souls, namely the mistreated horses he made it his lifelong vocation to rehabilitate.
Next on the day’s bill is Project Nim, a film that traces the development of a young chimp who is taught to communicate with humans through sign language. A New York Times review of the film this past summer sums it up rather succinctly:
“Project Nim, a new documentary by James Marsh, is a probing, unsettling study of primate behaviour, focusing on the complex dynamics of power, sex and group bonding, in a species whose startling capacity for selfishness and aggression is offset by occasional displays of intelligence and compassion. The movie also features a chimpanzee.”
Dubbed “Nim Chimpsky” by the Columbia University psychology professor who wrested him at birth from an Oklahoma animal compound in 1973, Nim led an unusual life.
He was installed in a brownstone on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and raised with a family of seven children, to test the theories of linguist Noam Chomsky.
Grad students evaluated whether or not humans are the only species hard-wired for language and communication, as Nim acquired 125 words and seemed to use them in a logical fashion.
The experiment did not always proceed smoothly, and the interrelationship between chimp and human was often fraught with misjudgment and downright abuse on the part of the dominant species.
The day winds up with The Future. It’s a quirky new independent film, that casts its director, short-story author and performance artist Miranda July, in one of its two leading roles.
She plays Sophie, a children’s dance instructor who is not very good at her job, and is drifting through her mid-30s. Her partner is the equally aimless Jason.
Though they have lived together for a long time, they feel a lack of commitment in their relationship, which they decide to remedy by adopting a cat from the local pound.
The cat is injured, and while they are waiting the requisite month for its wounds to heal, they both quit their jobs, each resolved to turn over a new leaf and fulfill long-dormant ambitions before taking on the new addition to their lives.
Needless to say, their live take some unexpected turns.
Mon Oncle Antoine plays at 2:00 p.m., Buck at 4:00 p.m., Project Nim is featured at 6:00 p.m., and The Future at 8:00 p.m., all at the Yukon Arts Centre on Sunday, December 11.
Brian Eaton is a cinema buff who reviews current films and writes on other film-related topics on a regular basis.