The Indomitable Spirit Of A Matriarch

The Indomitable Spirit Of A Matriarch

Static Mass Rating: 3/5
Soda Pictures 

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 with a home movie you have movement and sound to transport you back to that time with beloved family members and friends years later, over and over again.

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.

The Thorn In The Heart

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 cous cous but keeps them all on tenterhooks waiting for the inevitable punchline.

Like all matriarchs, Suzette presides over the family and it’s a role which seems natural to her. But like all families, there are some wars which are fought and wounds which refuse to heal, but she stoically carries on, until Michel brings them to the surface.

The Thorn In The Heart

Suzette’s strained relationship with her children, and in particular, her son, Jean-Yves, comes to light. She also goes on describe why her son, 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.

The Thorn In The Heart

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 has 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 free, such as with the toy model town and a scene where school children’s bodies are erased while they’re playing.

The Thorn In The Heart

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 raising a family and living with the choices and mistakes you’ve made.

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