“The Thorn in the Heart”: An Interview with Michel Gondry
The ever-whimsical and inventive Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Be Kind Rewind) might have worked with some of the best names in the business, putting his personal stamp on everything from music videos to comedies, TV series, romantic fantasies, and soon, a Seth Rogen–penned reboot of ’60s serial The Green Hornet, but his latest film hews much closer to the heart.
An affectionate and emotionally probing portrait of Gondry’s Aunt Suzette, a schoolteacher in rural France for 34 years, The Thorn in the Heart is a personal documentary in the purest sense of the term, a first-person recounting of life experience that occasionally drifts into a study of family dysfunction. Revisiting the sites where she taught a cross-section of provincial students, some of whom, now middle-aged, she has brief reunions with, Suzette comes across as a salt-of-the-earth matriarch, sensible and good-natured, even progressive in her approach to education. The hitch comes when Gondry begins to press Suzette about the conflicted feelings she has for her fiftysomething gay son Jean-Yves, whose presence is felt more in Thorn’s latter half, exposing a layer of resentment that’s never quite resolved. Shots of Jean-Yves’s elaborate model train set punctuate the film, linking episodes across time and geographical distance. Though simple and stylistically unadorned, Gondry’s genial flair sparks through, as when he recreates a humorous bathroom mishap at Suzette’s home and, in another sequence, outfits a classroom of children in “invisibility” cloaks as a Charlotte Gainsbourg song unspools. It’s a quiet, intimate portrait of internecine dynamics, part Super 8 home movie and part endearing homage to an average but colorful life, with a lingering emotional resonance as it digs gently under the skin of unspoken disappointments.