Title: I’m Glad My Mother Is Alive
Directors: Claude Miller and Nathan Miller
Starring: Vincent Rottiers, Annie Jouvet, Sophie Cattani, Christine Citti, Yves Verhoeven
“I’m Glad My Mother Is Alive,” which played at the 2010 City of Lights City of Angels (COLCOA) Festival, is a stirring familial drama of simmering resentment, anchored by a searing performance from young Vincent Rottiers, whose piercing blue eyes and quiet intensity are enough to make one ruminate about a possible fraternal collaboration with Daniel Craig. The American version of these sorts of damaged-kid stories typically cedes all ambiguity in favor of pat cathartic redemption, but this gripping French import keeps an edge of violence and uncertainty about it, making for an engaging and unnerving treat for arthouse audiences.
Directed by the father-and-son team of Claude and Nathan Miller, and based on a magazine article that chronicled actual events, the movie centers around 20-year-old Thomas (Rottiers), a sullen and emotionally wayward mechanic who tracks down his birth mother, Julie (a fantastic Sophie Cattani), at her suburban Paris apartment. He’s without much in the way of expectations, but when he discovers that Julie has a young son, Thomas both sparks to his half-brother and rages his against his mom, alternately vitalized by suddenly becoming a mentor of sorts and also resentful of the life denied him.
As things progress between Thomas and Julie — he babysits for her, and runs other errands — he lies to the couple who raised him (Christine Citti and Yves Verhoeven), telling them he’s busy with a new girlfriend. Both Thomas’ fitful flashes of anger and a heavy Oedipal undercurrent, bolstered by Thomas finding topless Polaroids of his mother, hint that there’s not a happy ending in store for everyone. When its shocking conclusion comes, however, “I’m Glad My Mother Is Alive” serves as a painful dramatic reminder that psychological trauma has long-lingering consequences, certainly not all of which are always evident on the surface.
The film is performance-based, which is to say unfussy and uncompromising, with marvelous subtleties from its two leads that counterbalance the bluntness of its narrative turns. And yet it’s not an inelegant thing, or characterized by slapdash instinct. If anything, “I’m Glad My Mother Is Alive” is even more formal, and precise in its construction. The Millers eschew any growing creep of sentimentalization, instead content to let the quiet scream of Thomas’ frustration at being emotionally rebuffed build to a breaking point. The discomfort is in recognizing the film’s truth.
Written by: Brent Simon