J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Miller & Son’s I’m Glad My Mother is Alive

Thomas Jouvet has anger management issues. He also has mother issues. Frankly, they are more or less one and the same. In a nutshell, Jouvet was adopted and he is not about to forget it in Claude and Nathan Miller’s I’m Glad My Mother is Alive (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Jouvet and his younger brother once lived with their single mother, Julie Martino. Before long, the tragically irresponsible (and somewhat trampy) Martino gives up on her maternal pretenses, surrendering the boys for adoption. Yves and Annie Jouvet raise the boys as their own, but unlike his easy going younger sibling, Jouvet’s rage constantly boils over.

Although French adoption confidentiality laws are apparently quite strict, the twelve year old Jouvet somehow finds a bureaucrat willing to break the rules. Yet, he will not reintroduce himself to Martino for another twelve years. Though their relationship is always strained, Jouvet and Martino appear to reach an armistice. He even moves into her flat, becoming a legitimate big brother to his new half-brother Frédéric. And then they reach the third act.

A collaboration between father and son filmmakers, Glad definitely shows the influence of the senior Miller’s mentor, François Truffaut. Given the rage directed at mother figures though, one wonders what the women in the Miller family think of it. Regardless, they certainly have a talent for keeping viewers on edge during ostensibly banal scenes of regular life, while smoothly integrating the frequent flashbacks.

More than simply the lead, Vincent Rottiers is the film’s engine as the twenty year old Jouvet. He is scary good and a more than a little scary, showing all the roiling anger and long held resentments that threaten to erupt at a moment’s notice.

Like many of Miller’s films, there are a number of scenes whose full significance only becomes clear later in the narrative. For instance, there is a seemingly random flirtation with an attractive movie theater cashier (played by the charismatic Sabrina Ouazan) that in retrospect actually serves as a crossroads or turning point for the protagonist.

Granted, Glad indulges in a bit of pop psychology overkill, as Jouvet gets an intimate look at the childhood he was denied. However, the Millers largely resist the temptation to wallow the more Freudian themes they sometimes imply. They also honestly follow through on the events they set in motion, rather than copping out with a cheap Oprah ending. Do not expect to see Glad on the OWN network anytime soon (or any challenging film for that matter). R.L. Burnside’s “Bad Luck City” is even heard in the soundtrack, which is very cool indeed.

Glad boasts a truly fine supporting cast, yet it is really Rottiers’ show. Sort of a “feel bad” movie, but a highly accomplished film, it is definitely recommended for everyone who does not need everything wrapped up in a smiley face for them (basically those of us living in the real world). Another intriguing film from Claude Miller and hopefully a foretaste of things to come from his son, Glad opens this Friday (9/2) at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.

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