Best known for stories of whimsical dreamers desperate for love, like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and The Science of Sleep (2006), Michel Gondry captures his most compelling protagonist yet in The Thorn in the Heart, a wonderfully affectionate documentary about his aunt Suzette. This kind, resilient matriarch worked as a schoolteacher in rural, isolated villages in France from 1952 to 1986; Gondry films his beloved relative reuniting with former colleagues and students, including, most poignantly, one of the repatriated Franco-Algerian Muslims she taught in a mountain refugee camp in 1963. Though the documentary is unquestionably a tribute to this remarkable woman’s career, the director also explores the more treacherous terrain of Suzette’s relationship with her mentally fragile, gay son Jean-Yves, who suffered a breakdown after the death of his father. Gondry, frequently present onscreen, gently questions both mother and son, allowing Suzette and Jean-Yves the opportunity to present their version of events that led to decades-old hurt and misunderstanding. Incorporating Super-8 clips from old family films, The Thorn in the Heart looks to the past for clues to the present, celebrating a devoted teacher who’s also the life of the party.
“Dialing down the whimsy several notches, director Michel Gondry turns his camera on a resilient matriarch in Thorn in the Heart, a lovely, minor-key ode to his aunt, Suzette Gondry.”
Justin Chang, Variety.
RUNNING TIME 86’
PRODUCTION France, 2009
RATING Not Rated
FORMAT(S) DVD, Digibeta, Beta SP (on request)