This film has consistently been voted as the greatest Canadian film ever made in various critics polls over the years. Revered New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael hailed it as a small masterpiece upon original release but it is the sort of slow, intimate, character-based drama that has never achieved the sort of wide appeal (outside of Canada) that more plot focused films have. Watching some of the supplementary material on the Criterion Collection disc, it is also clear that there are many cultural references in the film that will mean more to a Canadian (particularly a French Canadian) than to other viewers.
The film meanders amiably along, capturing in unhurried pace the life of rural 1940's Quebec, in this case an abestos mining town. The main characters are Benoit, an orphaned boy, the local undertaker Antoine and his assistant Fernand played by the director himself Claude Jutra.
Eventually the film reaches its big set-piece, a long, extended night sequence where Benoit and Antoine (covered in furs) must traverse the icy, snow covered landscape via sled to retrieve the body of a boy who has died at a farmhouse.
The director was hailed as the new savior of Canadian cinema at the time of release, but unfortunately never achieved the level of success later on that he did with this film. He mysteriously disappeared one winter and his body was discovered the following spring after the ice had thawed...a simple note attached, "My name is Claude Jutra".