My American Uncle
Working from, but in no way limited by the behavioural theories of Henri Laborit, Alain Resnais’ 1980 film shows us Laborit explaining how our behaviour often resembles that of the animal kingdom, but also how humans complexly deviate from it. Resnais then develops these ideas through dramatised scenes that increasingly become the focus of our attention as Laborit’s notions become secondary but never irrelevant.
Taking three characters who find themselves in stressful situations at key points in their lives, Resnais details René’s (Gérard Depardieu) struggle to maintain dignity after his work situation becomes precarious; Janine, meanwhile (Nicole Garcia), sacrifices her happiness and lets a married man go, and Jean (Roger Pierre) who is trying to work out whether he should be with his wife or mistress. Original, succinct and masterful, this is the cinematic equivalent of the writings of Milan Kundera – with whom Resnais once tried to get a project off the ground. (Tony McKibbin)