I'm Glad That My Mother Is Alive -- Film Review

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At the heart of the awkwardly titled French drama "I'm Glad That My Mother Is Alive" is a walking time bomb. A young man so bitter and wounded by his mother's abandonment when he was a child, Thomas lashes out angrily at everyone. Mostly, he suppresses his rage -- just barely. It's never a question of will he explode but when and whom his victim might be.

This meticulously drawn but bare-bones story from Claude Miller, who shares directing credit with his son, Nathan Miller, puts a hypnotic spell on its audience. It's not an always pleasant spell, though, as the characters aren't the sort one would like to hang out with. But the Millers scrupulously avoid judging their characters. The film observes their behavior with empathy but leaves things open for audiences to supply their own interpretation.

The film is a natural for festivals but a much less likely candidate for art house distribution outside Europe. It recently played in Los Angeles' City of Lights/City of Angels film series.

The film moves back and forth in time from present day to Thomas' memories of his mother and caring for his own baby brother when he was only 4. In fact, three young actors play the role -- Gabin Lefebure at age 4, Maxime Renard at 12 and Vincent Rottiers at 20. Indeed, the casting director -- Elsa Pharaon, according to IMDb -- deserves high honors for finding three actors with similar enough facial characteristics and abilities as actors.

Life with Mom No. 1 and Mom No. 2 and his adoptive dad get sketched sufficiently to make one understand Thomas' tightly wound psyche. He becomes obsessed with finding his birth mother, Julie Martino (a superb Sophie Cattani). When he does, though, he gets no answers.

Julie, who is poorly educated and sexually active at an early age, has drifted from man to man her whole life and now lives in a nearby suburb with another small son. Thomas insinuates himself into the family, but his relationship with his birth mother is a love/hate thing. She has no answers for him but accepts his presence without resistance. There even is a suggestion that Thomas' obsession has a sexual component, but the directors make none of this overt.

Thomas fits in nowhere. He never got along with his adoptive father, who is now an invalid, and his relationship with his adoptive mother is affectionate but superficial. Unlike his younger brother, he shows only passing interest in girls. Then he abruptly quits his job as an auto mechanic to pursue, almost as if he were wooing, his birth mother.

As with any Claude Miller film, the acting is impeccable. Miller's major influence has always been that of the late auteur Francois Truffaut, and he shares with his mentor the ability to draw truth from actors.

The story apparently is a true one, which gets reflected in an outcome that takes in a courtroom and prison. It also makes things open-ended. The film presents a severely damaged individual and makes you understand him, but one certainly can't say where he will go from here. The finest dramas don't always remind you of life itself, but in this instance it does.

Venue: City of Lights/City of Angels
Production companies: F Comme Film
Cast: Vincent Rottiers, Sophie Cattani, Christine Citti, Yves Verhoeven, Maxime Renard, Olivier Gueritee
Directors: Claude Miller, Nathan Miller
Screenwriters: Alain Le Henry, Claude Miller, Nathan Miller
Based on a story by: Emmanuel Carrere
Producer: Jean-Louis Livi
Director of photography: Aurelien Devaux
Music: Vincent Segal
Editor: Morgane Spacagna
Sales: Orly Films
No rating, 90 minutes
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