Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Michel Gondry's THORN IN THE HEART explores the filmaker's extended family

The first of the recent FSLC's Rendez-vous With French Cinema presen-
tations to have a US theatrical release -- Michel Gondry's THE THORN IN THE HEART -- opens this week via Oscilloscope Laboratories, and a welcome release it is. While we've come to expect the unusual from M. Gondry, you may not be prepared for this filmmaker in a documentary mode. What he does with the form is both expected and not. He looks at his family, particularly at his aunt Suzette and her odd and troubled son Jean-Yves, and the gaze seems loving but distanced.

Gondry (shown at left) is all over the place: back and forth in time, chatting informally, looking through old scrapbooks, talking to family and friends both close and not so, along with some old acquaintances. The result is sometimes appealing but also stand-offish, as though the filmmaker were somewhat frightened -- at least rather reticent -- about getting too close or having to deal directly with this situation, which, like life, proves anything but simple.

As we view the family then (above) and now (below), we learn a number of things: that Aunt Suzette was a school teacher, and apparently a good, if stern one, in her day; that she took into the school Algerian children for a time (I believe from those families who had fought for France during the French-Algerian War: boys only, as the girls -- a shame on this culture -- don't go to school); that the family owned and worked a saw mill in the area; and that Aunt Suzette likes to laugh a lot, so much so that we begin to wonder if she feels that laughter might somehow absolve her of all that has come before. We learn, too, that her son, Jean-Yves is gay and how this affects the family.

That school, even back then, had its own dedicated screening room -- which must have meant something special to this filmmaker. Part of the movie seems almost a faux film about making the movie.
But of course it does, for this is Gondry -- who has give us bizarre and inventive creations like Be Kind Rewind, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and The Science of Sleep.

The documentary will likely be a "must" for the movie-maker's completists, perhaps less so for others. I find that, now, five weeks after first seeing The Thorn in the Heart, so amorphous has it become that few details have stuck with me; even the notes I took during the screening don't always make much sense. And yet what remains -- the feelings I have about the filmmaker, his family and the film itself -- are quite dear, almost cozy.

Fortunately, more of us will have the chance to weigh-in soon, as Oscilloscope is releasing the film this Friday, April 2, here in New York at the Village East Cinema, with other cities to follow: at this point Madison, WI (as part of the Wisconsin International film festival, on April 15; and in Los Angeles on May 14 at Laemmle's Sunset Five Cinema. A DVD release, the distributor assures us, is also in the offing.  Click here for further information.

No comments: