I’m Glad My Mother Is Alive (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
When Thomas was a very young child and Patrick was still an infant, their mother, Julie (Sophie Cattani), left them to fend for themselves for four days because she and her friends had found a way to make a lot of money. It was only natural that social services got involved and took away the children from their mother’s care.
Thomas and Patrick are eventually adopted by a couple (Christine Citti, Yves Verhoeven). Eventually, after many years, Thomas manages to track down his biological mother because he wishes to have some sort of a relationship with her. It is not until when Thomas is around twenty years of age (Vincent Rottiers) when he finally gets the courage to knock on Julie’s door, reveal himself to be her biological son, and try to reconnect.
Inspired by true events, “Je suis heureux que ma mère soit vivante” manages to capture the inner turmoil of someone who has been abandoned and never gotten a chance to find closure since the ordeal. Although the elements are in place to make a compelling drama, the execution meanders at times especially during the first act, that its rawness is spoiled somewhat. The material is kept afloat, however, by realistic performances.
It requires a bit of time and effort to get into the rhythm of the storytelling. We get a glimpse of the face of Tommy the hardened young man, but it quickly jumps to scenes of Tommy as a child and Tommy as an angry prepubescent. Disparate moods and characterizations weave in and out each other which lacks a level of focus that helps to keep the material together. Instead of being engaged in the drama, when a scene ends and another begins, the question is not what is going to happen next but which time period we are observing. The technique distracts and the tension that has built collapses on itself.
Its strongest point is the performances. Rottiers does a commendable job encapsulating a character who is very angry and troubled but tries to keep the lid on the fact that he is. He plays Thomas with a fragile level-headedness and part of the suspense is at which point he is going to break. Functioning as a magnifying glass to Thomas’ feelings of inadequacy, Cattani tackles the difficult job of portraying a character that is unlikable mainly because of the decisions of her past. She makes us want to know more about Julie by playing her soft in body movements but hard during some verbal exchanges. Rottiers and Cattani’s acting styles complement each other well since both characters struggle to maintain the façade that things are all right between them.
It is interesting that “I’m Glad My Mother is Alive,” directed by Claude Miller and Nathan Miller, has a certain level of reluctance in fully getting to know its characters. In a way, it matches the psychology of its key players. Still, I wished that the couple who adopt the brothers are given more screen time. Not knowing much detail about them proves problematic at times. For example, there is a scene placed near the end of the picture between the biological and adoptive parents. It is supposed to be dramatic but since we are not knowledgeable enough about one side, the meeting comes off as a contrivance.