Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 02, 2010 11:49 am 
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Identity crisis

Veteran French director Claude Miller collaborated in both writing and directing with his cameraman son Nathan for the latter's first directorial effort in this adaptation of a true story about a son abandoned by his mother who reconnects with her at age 20 with negative results. The up and coming young actor Vincent Rottiers adds considerably to the believability and complexity of the main role of the disturbed young man. This was a project delayed for thirteen years, originally under consideration by Jacques Audiard. Though the senior Miller's work can be pedestrian and derivative, the directorial presence of his son breathes life into this impulsive, rather troubling effort. Finally the story however has a somewhat slight and anecdotal quality, though it shows the potential of Rottiers, also seen this year in Xavier Giannoli's exciting con-man story, In the Beginning/À l'origine.

The film begins with flashbacks that skip back and forth in time, beginning with the adoptive parents on holiday with Thomas and his younger brother Patrick/François when they are twelve and nine, respectively. Later flashbacks go further back to show scenes of the brothers with their birth mother and the day she signs off on their adoption at a foster care center. Thomas is four at time of adoption, his brother one. At twelve, Thomas Jouvet (Maxime Renard) is obsessed with finding his birth mother and bnow alone with
her young child.lames his adoptive parents for his not knowing her. He's a handful to deal with, constantly acting out. Eventually he manages to persuade a registry office "fonctionnaire" to reveal his mother's name and coordinates and he goes to find his mother, Julie (Sophie Cattani), but bolts when she opens the door, pregnant, without recognizing him.

The adoptive parents, Yves ( Yves Verhoeven) and Annie (Christine Citti) are long-suffering; in fact there's a slight hint that Thomas' aggressive behavior may help push Yves into the depression that eventually leads to his being permanently institutionalized.

Annie, however, is strong and sweet, and when the narrative skips forward to eight years later when Thomas (now Vincent Rottiers) is twenty, now working as a garage mechanic and with his own car. He seems on the right track, and is a loving member of his adoptive family, sharing in visits to Yves, affectionate with Annie. François (Olivier Guéritée), now seventeen, probably doesn't even remember Julie and is a champion skirt-chaser. Thomas still keeps to himself, and one day looks up Julie, arriving with flowers and chocolates. She is still in the same flat but now alone with her young child.

A strange relationship develops in which Thomas seems to see Julie partly as his long-lost mom, partly as a potential girlfriend; the latter signaled by his addressing her as "vous" rather than "tu." From here for a while Thomas leads a double life, halfway moving in with Julie and her child, and halfway still the son of Annie, going back and forth, lying to Annie about another job and a girlfriend. The game doesn't last for long, and ends in a very unexpected way.

This awkwardly titled film is well done in its individual parts, and there's evidence of the senior Miller's skill in dealing with tales of troubled youth, but structurally it doesn't altogether fit together and the flashbacks assume a disproportionate role. It is either too long or too condensed. It might work better in two or three parts of a miniseries. Or the introductions might be somehow greatly compressed and the final segment, where the chemistry between Sophie Cattani, who plays the birth mother, and Vincent Rottiers, as the adult Thomas, the latter alive and yet dark and mysterious, makes for a troubling and suspenseful series of scenes -- which might better have come somewhere earlier rather than past the midway point.

Je suis heureux que ma mère sois vivante
debuted at Venice and opened in Paris September 30, 2009. Understandably it got good, but not great reviews. It was shown as part of the March 2010 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema co-sponsored by uniFrance and The Film Society of Lincoln Center and shown at the Walter Reade Theater and IFC Center, New York.

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