MON ONCLE D'AMERIQUE -- In French with English subtitles at the K-B Janus.
Oh boy, a jargon-laden study of human behavioral responses complete with laboratory rats and fictional case studies.
Given the subject matter, it's a wonder that Jean Resnais' "Mon Oncle d'Amerique" works as well as it does. In fact, it starts out intriguingly and builds to a funny and frequently insightful treatment of the human condition. But it ends on a decidedly pompous note.
Resnais has dramatized the theories of behavioral scientist Henri Laborit -- who appears as himself in the film -- with the stories of three fictional characters. Rene Ragueneau (Gerard Depardieu) is a country boy who leaves his father's farm to become technical director at a textile mill. Janine Garnier (Nicole Garcia) outrages her working class family by becoming an actress. Jean Le Gall (Roger-Pierre), son of a well-to-do doctor, is news director for French Radio.
As their lives intertwine, the situations they encounter manifest themselves in physical ailments -- ulcer, high blood pressure, insomnia. One's spouse gets a job transfer; one gets fired; one feels exploited by management; one faces job competition from an ambitious colleague. These slices of life are painfully funny and we can all relate to them.
But up pops Laborit: We are all lab rats caught in the maze of life, blah, blah, blah. We either try to dominate others, or turn our aggression on ourselves and become ill.
Resnais' sense of humor makes this whole concept bearable. "I became a teacher -- I'd given up my ambition," one character confesses. Another says, "America doesn't exist -- I know, I've lived there." And you can't help but laugh, seeing people run around with rat heads on. But by the end, when Resnais shows us scenes of riot-scarred America to illustrate his point, the smug tone has worn thin.