By Don Simpson | December 31, 2011
Directors: Claude Miller, Nathan Miller
Writers: Claude Miller, Nathan Miller, Alain Le Henry, Emmanuel Carrère (story)
Starring: Vincent Rottiers, Sophie Cattani, Christine Citti, Yves Verhoeven, Maxime Renard, Olivier Guéritée, Ludo Harlay, Gabin Lefebvre, Quentin Gonzalez, Chantal Banlier, Thomas Momplot
At five years of age, Thomas (Gabin Lefebvre) and his younger brother Patrick (Louis Czajkowski/Gabriel Czajkowski) are given up by their single mother Julie (Sophie Cattani) and adopted by Annie (Christine Citti) and Yves Jouvet (Yves Verhoeven). In her early 20s, Julie seems too immature and naive to be a fit mother — she is the type of parent who has no qualms about locking her crying infant in the hallway outside of her flat in order to enjoy a one-night stand or leaving her two young boys unattended for four days — so it seems adoption is Thomas and Patrick’s only viable option for survival.
Jump forward a few years as a pubescent Thomas (Maxime Renard) finds new and exciting ways to push the Jouvets to a breaking point. A menagerie of insults pummel the Jouvets into submission as Thomas comes to the realization that they are not his birth parents. Thomas also attempts to undermine the Jouvets’ happy relationship with Patrick — now known as François (Ludo Harlay). Sure, the Jouvets are not prize-winning parents but it certainly does not help matters that Thomas is like a raging bull of a teen. Thomas’ wounds from his nightmarish childhood are much too deep and complex; he is a brooding punk with a prevailing sense of personal injustice. Thankfully, I’m Glad My Mother Is Alive remains remarkably detached and even-handed in its representation of Thomas, neither blaming or excusing him for his teenage angst and uncontrollable convulsions of anger — the result of potent mixture of bad parentage, raging hormones and Oedipal melodrama.
Thomas’s vague recollections of Julie fester inside him like an infection as his lifelong obsession boils over with a volatile combination of curiosity, longing and disdain. He eventually makes the fateful decision to reconnect with his birth mother, finding Julie — now fully-matured — as a frail and defeated incarnation of the reckless party person who abandoned him and Patrick several years ago. Barely keeping her head above water by clocking in long hours cleaning hospital rooms, Julie has been relying upon a neighbor to look after her most recent child, Frédéric (Quentin Gonzalez). For better or worse, this provides Thomas with the means to insert himself back into Julie’s life by volunteering to help take care of Frédéric.
Thomas quickly evolves into a caregiver and disciplinarian, eager to provide for Frédéric what was not provided for him. Seventeen years Thomas’ senior, Julie is more like a peer than a parent to him; enough so that their relationship begins to assume a smattering of sexual tension. Thomas buys flowers and chocolates for Julie, as if courting a new love; while Julie, still lacking in maternal instincts, treats Thomas as she would any new man in her life and desperately enlists him as a substitute parent for Frédéric. I’m Glad My Mother Is Alive avoids exploiting the erotic undertow in Thomas and Julie’s love-hate relationship, but it is this very same sexual tension that climaxes in the shocking scene to which the film’s title vaguely alludes.
For I’m Glad My Mother Is Alive, veteran French filmmaker Claude Miller (Alias Betty) teams up with his son, first-time filmmaker Nathan Miller, to share co-director and co-writer titles. The film’s only serious fault is that it hyperactively hops around in its timeline, especially during the first act, and takes a while to settle into a coherent and cohesive narrative. Based upon a nonfiction magazine article by Emmanuel Carrère, I’m Glad My Mother Is Alive does beg to question which events are real and which are fictionalized. Some aspects of the narrative do seem a bit too contrived and purposeful to be based upon “reality” — such as how the hospitalization of Yves solidifies Thomas’ Oedipal disdain for Yves and allows for Thomas to co-exist more civilly with Annie — but, as the saying goes, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
I’m Glad My Mother Is Alive is scheduled to be released on DVD on January 3, 2012 in the United States by Strand Releasing.