A Thorn in My Heart

| August 6, 2010

If nothing else, A Thorn in my Heart is a look into the soul that fuels a brilliant mind. Michel Gondry’s personal documentary about his Aunt Suzette and her life as a traveling teacher in France is as much as you want it to be. It gives a personal connection to an enigmatic director, a sensitive insight into the life of a normally grand woman and a touching look into to world that shaped one of the most nostalgic directors of my generation.
The story starts amidst a quaint French supper and Aunt Suzette sharing a tale of too much sauerkraut and her late husband, Michel’s uncle. From here Michel tells a simple tale, told through Aunt Suzette as she tours her old classrooms, of a woman who balanced the comfort of teaching with a dying husband and an anguished son.
This documentary is truly flexible, which speaks to Gondry’s modes of storytelling. As it started I was slightly bored, wondering what made Gondry think I cared about his aunt. Then I realized that all he wanted to do was show you that HE cared about his aunt and, from that moment, I was captivated. He is also the same old visionary. He installs quirky animations and brings fun along with the camera, giving the film his magical signature.
The film is also very raw, however, both very intentionally and perhaps also lazily. Occasionally the boom operator is in the shot, but he casually steps back and Gondry keeps rolling. At another point, Aunt Suzette misses her queue and continues in a conversation on the other side of a door. Michel walks into frame, peeks in the door and, seconds later, Aunt Suzette walks through and just keeps talking. Maybe Michel Gondry gets a break for being lazy but it is a simple way to add character to the film.
Another element that makes the film burst is his use of old Super 8 footage in harmony with his new footage. Some of Michel’s new footage is digital and crisp but he also shot on film with multiple lenses. Without an obvious plan, he cuts to and from any one format and, by constantly changing his frame, creates a movie that shrinks and grows. A metaphor for Aunt Suzette’s life and relationships that is much clearer now as I write.
A Thorn in my Heart shows Michel Gondry still obsessed with memory and how the heart and soul can effect the past that we keep in our minds. Gondry uniquely tells a story of mother and son, family and friends and husband and wife that is personal and universal. Give it a watch and if you don’t want to call your mom afterwards, give it a day and try it again.

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