I’m Glad That My Mother Is Still Alive (Je Suis Heureux Que Ma Mere Soit Vivante)
Co-directed by Claude Miller and his son Nathan, I’m Glad That My Mother is Still Alive is a drama inspired by a true incident. Based on a newspaper article about a similar situation, the film is an adaptation of the original screenplay by Jacques Audiard (A Prophet).
The story follows two young boys – Thomas, 5, and Patrick, 2, whose troubled mother Julie lacks maternal instinct and struggles to make ends meet. Leaving the boys alone to fend for themselves as she goes off to work, the children end up in a care home and are adopted by Annie and Yves Jouvet. By the time he is 14, Thomas struggles with the knowledge that he is adopted and acts out on his school friends, his brother, and his adoptive parents. He is put in a boarding school and coerces a state official into finding his real mother’s address. When he pays Julie a visit, he finds she is married and pregnant, and writes her a letter to say that he never wants to see her again.
The film shifts back and forth in time between Thomas aged 5, 14, and 20. When adopted, Patrick was renamed Francois by their new parents, and the happy-go-lucky 17 year-old has no desire to see or meet his biological mother, especially when he sees how much Julie’s influence in Thomas’ life tortures him. Aged 20, Thomas finds Julie again and befriends his younger brother, Fred, now aged 5. He becomes increasingly tense and frustrated with Julie’s lack of parental ability, and ultimately seeks his revenge.
Though the title should be the pivotal line in the film, since it is repeated constantly between checking the film listings, purchasing a ticket, telling your friends what you are going to watch, and having it introduced, it loses all meaning. It gives away the ending and does not resonate in the way that it should when spoken at the end of the film.
Like the title, the film itself drones on without hitting any real points of tension. The scene in which Thomas stabs his mother is uncomfortable rather than shocking, and Thomas’ consistently hard face does not ever soften. Every scene in which Thomas argues with a friend or one of his parents is fraught and sharp, and since there is no love with which to contrast his anger, it never lends any real emotion to the scenes. Some issues furtively sneak into view, such as some undecided sexual tension between Thomas and Julie, and adoptive father Yves’ mental illness. Though they appear, they are never addressed or developed, leaving the audience confused rather than moved or confronted. It all feels unfinished.
The acting of the young children is superb, and much of the cinematography is a joy to watch. The editing is unnecessarily complicated, however, and the story does not engage or emote as dramatically as it deigns to. A disappointment. Or, should I say, I’m Glad That I Did Not Pay For This Ticket.