The Good, The Bad, and the Critic

Film review: Mon Oncle Antoine and When Jews Were Funny

Mon Oncle Antoine 

Canada produces many quality pictures and Mon oncle Antoine has ranked first on the list of Top 10 Canadian Films of All Time, three decades in a row, by a poll held every decade at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Claude Jutra’s adolescent melodrama is set in a cold rural mining town in Quebec during Christmas time. The camera follows a young boy and the life of his family, who owns the town’s convenience store; meanwhile, the miners are getting unruly.

The story opens with a funeral, an atmosphere of death, and a loss of innocence. Young Benoit is transitioning from childhood to adulthood; throughout the picture he has miraculous and heartbreaking experiences that shape his emotional development. We are given the opportunity to see Benoit’s psyche unfold as he first encounters love, sexual passion, and spiritual depression. Each character in Jutra’s masterpiece is fully realized; we care for all of them and enjoy seeing them grow before our eyes.

In conclusion, Jutra’s film is wonderfully made and profoundly entertaining. Though it can be depressing at times, there are many lessons to be learned and characters to meet.



When Jews Were Funny

Forty years from now people will be laughing at Woody Allen movies like Annie Hall and Manhattan and praising him as a comedic master of his time, much as we do now with silent genius Charlie Chaplin. Director Alan Zweig seeks to answer the question: why are Jews so funny?

When Jews Were Funny is a decidedly bold picture, because it seeks answers from a community scattered throughout the globe. Consisting of talking head interviews with Jewish comedians, and interrupted by stock footage of stand-up comedy, the approach appears rather formulaic for a documentary; however, it is full of insightful and philosophical thought.

Zweig dissects what it means to be Jewish, whether the comedy is a result of heritage, or he analyzes the nature of a Jewish joke. Is the Jewish joke completely different from any other joke? His interviewees, who range from Howie Mandel to Super Dave Osborne, certainly think so. They give their unique thoughts and opinions, often arguing about semantics and giving us a unique historical perspective from the Jewish lens.

Perhaps Jewish comedy is different in style because of a long history of persecution; perhaps it is dark because Judaism has been through dark times.

Another layer to this picture is the fact that it’s also about Zweig’s personal life. He’s 60 years old, newly married, and a new father. He battles with the fear that his child may not grow up Jewish at all and that his legacy as a Jew will die with the next generation. This adds a great deal to an already complex film filled with interesting dialogue and witty banter. It’s definitely a picture that deserves some accolades.



Check out more of Michael’s reviews at, and catch a screening of When Jews Were Funny at Cinematheque (100 Arthur Street) on Jan. 16 and 17 at 7 p.m., and Jan. 18 at 9 p.m.