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Movies: L'Epine dans le Coeur ***

Mercurial New York-based French director Michel Gondry has always mixed attention-grabbing big-budget features such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with quieter and more reflective documentaries.

At the start of L'Epine dans le Coeur (A Thorn in the Heart), I worried that perhaps Gondry had gone too far with his reflections. But after a slow start, the film draws you into a small but intriguing family story.

As a child, Gondry spent summers with his Aunt Suzette in the remote and mountainous Cevennes region of south central France. Suzette, now in her 80s, was a primary school teacher, and Gondry and a small crew follow her as she visits the many schools she taught in.

An intelligent and formidable woman, Suzette is clearly admired by the colleagues and former pupils she meets on her journey. But she's also a bit of a tough nut, and the 'thorn in her heart' is her relationship with her fragile and troubled son Jean-Yves.

Suzette taught Jean-Yves at several of her schools, and this did not help an already fractious dynamic. Both, it seems, have regrets, particularly concerning the circumstances in which Suzette's husband died.

Gondry unjudgmentally teases these out, adding playful touches to his storytelling.

It's a subject that's clearly close to his heart, but that doesn't stop him turning a slight domestic tale into a charmingly loose and moving piece of cinema.

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