Release date: February 14th 2011
Certificate (UK): E
Running time: 83 minutes
Language: French with English subtitles
Director: Michel Gondry
Cast: Suzette Gondry, Jean-Yves Gondry, Michel Gondry
Like photographs, home movies are glimpses back to fleeting moments, but they have the added advantage of sound and movement. While home movies from my own family tend to focus on the spontaneity of toddlers slapping each other and running off before their nappies can be fastened, other families’ home movies tend to shine the spotlight on older members.
Director Michel Gondry turns the camera on his own family and offers a home movie of a different sort. The Thorn In The Heart is an intimate portrait of the life and career of his aunt, Suzette, the matriarch of the Gondry family.
With home movie footage included, it’s more of a reportage and features family and friends who meet with Suzette as she travels to places where she lived and worked as a schoolteacher in rural France. From its first few minutes, it’s easy to see Suzette as a matriarch; during a family dinner she shares a story over the sauerkraut and couscous but keeps them all on tenterhooks waiting for the inevitable punch line.
Like all matriarchs, Suzette presides over the family and it’s a role which seems natural to her. Like with many families though, there’ve been a few wars fought and wounds that refuse to heal, but she stoically carries on – until Michel brings them to the surface.
Suzette’s strained relationship with her children, and in particular, her son, Jean-Yves, come to light. She goes on describe why Jean-Yves is like a thorn in her heart and tearfully talks about her husband’s passing.
Like Michel, Jean-Yves is a whimsical character and also a filmmaker, we learn of his breakdown and the effect his coming out had on his mother, who’s still clearly unable to accept it.
Although it’s a step away from other films Gondry has directed, like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and The Science of Sleep (2006), it’s not the first time he’s ventured into documentaries.
I’ve Been Twelve Forever (2003) and Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (2005) both showed a great flair for telling unconventional stories in a very engaging way and the same is true here. While the focus is by and large on Suzette, there are moments of playfulness and opportunities to let his imagination roam free, such as with the toy model town and a scene where school children’s bodies are erased while they’re playing.
In the end, The Thorn In The Heart, shows us what it means to be a real-life matriarch. It’s not just about telling stories over dinner or sitting at the head of the table; it’s about having an indomitable spirit, the unsympathetic task of raising a family and living with the choices and mistakes you’ve made.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .