Father and son Miller team make compelling family drama
by Natasha Senjanovic
03/09/2009 - Popular dramatic director Claude Miller has brought a “debut” feature to the Lido – that of his son Nathan, with whom he co-directed I’m Glad That My Mother is Alive [trailer]. The film opened the six edition of Venice Days to heartfelt applause.
At the center of this true story is Thomas, a trouble and troubling young man. Abandoned by his mother when he was four, and his brother two, Thomas is brought up by adoptive parents. Although they offer him stability, he only becomes more violent at school and, eventually, at home as well, until he is sent away to boarding school. By the time he’s in his early 20s, he is all detached from his family, even though he still lives at home.
Then he finds his birth mother and begins spending more and more time with her and her seven-year-old son Frederic. Only he becomes increasingly more angry with her and protective of Frederic – until the film’s tragic climax.
Nathan has worked for his father for over 10 years, mostly as a cameraman, but they both say the transition to co-directing was smooth and stimulating. “I grew up on sets, so I know that cinema isn’t life, it's work. I could easily separate Claude Miller the father from Claude Miller the director,” said Nathan at the Q&A following the screening.
Claude added that they began first just writing the script together, “but I felt I was working with a director, not a co-screenwriter and immediately thought, ‘Why not direct it together?’ However, before the shoot, we made a clear choice: Nathan would be the only one to work with the actors and crew. I would watch ‘from above’, without losing a second of what was going on, and give my input only to Nathan.”
Three different and very talented actors play Thomas throughout the years, and all bear a striking resemblance to one another, which makes the film’s flashback storytelling work seamlessly. The eldest Thomas is played by Vincent Rottiers, upon whom both directors and the audience heaped endless praise. His very face perfectly depicts a lost little boy in a young man’s body, always ready to explode yet all the while yearning for love.
Rottiers was chosen from among four possible candidates. Says Nathan: “We didn’t have to ask him anything to obtain this gaze. From the first take, it was all there. I think he’s a genius who’s not aware of his genius.”
However, perhaps an even more heartbreaking performance comes from Gabin Leferbvre, who plays Thomas at age four. His inability to understand what is going to happen to him and his profound love for his mother (Sophie Cattani) – barely in her 20s and unable to take care of herself, much less children as well – importantly establishes audiences’ sympathy for Thomas from the onset. Thus, we never view him as a pathological figure, but a victim of life’s tragic circumstances.
The film was made for just under €4m and Orly Films has so far sold it to Quebec, Belgium and Switzerland. It will next travel to the Montreal Film Festival.