I’m Glad My Mother Is Alive Review [SFIFF 2011]
Freud would have had a veritable field day with the creepily erotic film I’m Glad My Mother Is Alive by France’s acclaimed Claude Miller, and his son, Nathan Miller. The film has eroticism taking place largely between a mother and son. This is wrong of course, even though this mother gave up this particular son for adoption years before the bulk of the story takes place. The strange tale receives an added sense of singularity considering the familial relationship between Claude and Nathan.
This is a bit cryptic, but you’ll understand after watching the film. And I wholeheartedly do recommend you see this film. Although the film was originally meant to be directed by Jacques Audiard (Un prophete, The Beat My Heart Skipped) thirteen years ago after he read an article based on true events, it eventually ended up in the very capable hands of Miller who did a rewrite with his son.
Thomas Jouvet (played beautifully by Vincent Rottiers) rejects his middle class, adoptive parents as a teen and struggles more than his younger brother to come to terms with a birth mother he remembers clearly. She gave them up when Thomas was four or five. He begins to search for his birth mother and finds her pregnant and living with a new a husband. This puts to rest his desire to reconnect with this woman for several years.
At this point, the film jumps into the future and we find Thomas relatively well adjusted. He has a solid relationship with his brother, and his adoptive mother. His father is fading fast with an unnamed illness with symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s and is put in a home. Now while Thomas has a job, he doesn’t seem to have an interest in women like his younger brother. This is, of course, until he decides to find his birth mother a second time, without telling the rest of his family. This time, Thomas is an adult of twenty years.
In what is disturbingly similar to a romantic relationship, Thomas moves in with his mother Julie (Sophie Cattani), and his young half brother. He tells his birth mother he’s moving to a distant town for work and tells her he’s finally seeing a woman who can only be Julie. A family dynamic slowly takes shape, although Thomas is now unemployed, so traditional gender roles have been switched.
Thomas gets angry when his mother and half-brother are late for their dinner. He worries over his half-brother spending time with the boy’s better off birth father. And Julie takes great pleasure in making Thomas jealous by rubbing her romantic endeavors in his face, asking him to babysit while she goes on dates.
It’s a perverseness at it’s very finest, although, I can assure that no real lines were crossed in a physical way. If you’re familiar at all with Claude Miller’s previous work, you’ll know he collaborated with some of French New Wave’s greatest directors, including Jean-Luc Godard and Robert Bresson. You’ll also know how talented he is by in creating genuinely shocking moments that come seemingly out of nowhere like in A Secret or Other Stories.
While I can’t elaborate on the latter (there is such a fantastic scene coming in the film’s second half, I would hate myself if I ruined it for anyone), it’s interesting to consider some the elements of French New Wave that are present in I’m Glad My Mother Is Alive. Thankfully, the Millers skipped the ironic narration. But most notably, while not traditional, the love triangles are there at frighteningly ramped up stakes. There is a clear and definite competition, albeit only known to Thomas, for his affection between birth mother, and adoptive mother. Thomas also is vying for his birth mother’s attention which she frequently uses against him.
Intimate camera work, including the use of handheld devices create an intimate and involving atmosphere. And although the film runs just slightly too long (which at its worst, only takes a little bit away from an otherwise tightly edited and paced film), you won’t mind because where these two Millers take us is well worth the journey.
Titillating, thought-provoking, confidently made, involving and well-written and paced all accurately describe this wonderful film.