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Home Reviews Cinema reviews The Thorn in the Heart
The Thorn in the Heart Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Thursday, 09 December 2010 11:54
Director: Michel Gondry
Cast: Michel Gondry, Suzette Gondry
Certificate: PG

Have you ever made a film about your Aunt Suzette? Michel Gondry has. Why should you care? Maybe you don’t like watching other people’s home movies. Maybe you don’t even have an Aunt Suzette. Watching The Thorn in the Heart won’t change either of those very much.

It’s a personal project, as personal as they get. Michel’s documentary looks back at the years his formidable old auntie spent teaching children across the country. It’s a stark contrast to The Science of Sleep or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, frequently cutting from 16mm to grainy Super-8 footage.

Sometimes the director recreates moments from the past; a schoolyard screening of a film at night is a touching scene that recalls Cinema Paradiso, with Michel standing in the shadowy trees as a silent onlooker. A re-enactment of the time his cousin got stuck in the toilet is less so.

But there’s more to Jean-Yves than bathroom flashbacks. Suzette and her son have a falling out that spans a generation, rooted in a tragic bereavement. As the awkwardness between the two comes to the fore, a mild dramatic tension arises. It never gets any stronger than that, mind – mild is a good word to describe the whole thing. Not quite bland, but not exactly matured.

Yet it all clearly means a lot to Michel. He often appears at the edge of the frame, directing his relatives, asking them a question, or just simply looking pensive. He doesn’t interact with any obvious affection (they actually come across in a rather unflattering light) but the intimacy comes from the images he captures.

As he allows the cameras into his home life, we see the Gondrys’ emotions up close in a frank exhibition of family truths. But it’s hard to feel engaged by any of it, no matter how personal the premise. At the end of the 86 minutes, you’re just an outsider watching French people laugh at an in-joke you’ll never understand. Still, there are some pretty shots of model trains to keep you going.


The Thorn in the Heart is interesting but never involving. It’s a home movie in the truest sense – something for Michel to watch in his living room, not to play in public.


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