As evidenced by some of the effusively congratulatory responses in a post-screening q&a I attended at the South by Southwest Film Festival for The Thorn in the Heart, some audience members may want to watch other people's home movies, but I don't. Although it features some of the same artsy handmade flourishes as his previous films, Michel Gondry's new documentary is essentially a portrait of his extended family, in particular his aunt Suzette, presented via a combination of staged (albeit acknowledged) recollections, on-the-fly interviews, and yes, family-shot films. And while I don't begrudge the esteemed director pursuing a subject slightly closer to home as an alternative to or respite from his higher-profile fiction features, I reserve the right to not want to watch it myself, even if others may successfully argue that it's a revealing look at the people who helped Gondry become the artist he is today.
Initially intended to be an affectionate chronicle of Gondry's aunt Suzette during her days as a schoolteacher, the film slowly takes on larger proportions when the director reveals that Suzette and her son Jean-Yves have endured a strained relationship for decades. Poring over the details of a family history whose crux seems to be the death of Suzette's husband and Jean-Yves' father, Gondry unveils decades of pained, difficult feelings on all sides. But as his tales of Suzette's schoolhouse days expand with their own complexity, they ultimately comment upon the troubled mother-son connection that has lingered, tenuous and unaddressed, for many years, even as Gondry gently nurtures the two of them towards an equally tender and fragile reconciliation.