Review: The Specials
by Kaleem Aftab
- CANNES 2019: Vincent Cassel delivers a superb performance in this film by Éric Toledano and Olivier Nakache, based on a true story, which deals with associations looking after young people with autism
In 2015, the directors of French mega-hit Untouchable [+see also:
film profile], Éric Toledano and Olivier Nakache, made a 26-minute documentary, We Should Make a Film About It… detailing the work of Stéphane Benhamou, the creator of Le Silence des Justes, and Daoud Tatou, director of Le Relais IDF. These two associations specialise in caring for autistic youths, especially those from underprivileged backgrounds, and then helping to reintegrate them into society. The Specials [+see also:
film profile], the (freshly renamed) Last Screening of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, sees the directors build upon their documentary to create a stirring, heartfelt and powerful fiction film starring Vincent Cassel and Reda Kateb as Bruno and Malik, characters that are based on Stéphane and Daoud.
The directors constantly use filmmaking tools to remind us that this story has its origins in fact. The handheld camerawork of cinematographer Antoine Sanier is designed to give the movie a documentary look whenever the autistic youngsters are on screen. Some of the actors suffer from autism themselves, most notably Benjamin Lesieur, who plays Joseph. Bruno is trying to find Joseph a job, but he cannot travel on the Metro without pulling alarms or causing havoc, so Bruno secretly drives him to work. The on-screen tension is ramped up further by the co-directors thanks to a storyline based on a real-life investigation by the IGAS (General Inspection of Social Affairs), which sought to shut down Le Silence des Justes because they didn’t have a proper licence. The investigative interviews are a good way to impart information about the group and their policy of taking in any autistic child, no matter the circumstances or their background, whereas state-sanctioned bodies are more discerning and limiting in terms of the numbers they accept. It’s a massive problem in society for parents of seriously troubled autistic children to find state-run institutions willing to accept them.
The directors avoid the trap of depicting Bruno and Malik as saintly, giving them foibles that also serve as light relief. Bruno, a middle-aged Jew, is constantly hounded by all those around him to find himself a wife and is set up on a number of blind dates. This leads to several awkward encounters with women, shot in a more static style to highlight their fictional aspect, where it is hinted that his job working with autistic youths is a place where he feels comfortable, whereas in everyday personal situations, he is riven by anxiety. It’s great to see Cassel play against type. Malik, meanwhile, is a Muslim, married with three kids, although this fact is used more to highlight that religious differences count for nothing and are no hindrance to their friendship. Malik, though, has a penchant for being strict, and this creates tension and unease amongst his charges.
It’s a fascinating film and is one that’s personal to Toledano, who has a family member with autism. The filmmakers impart information quickly and in a light-hearted style, such as having a quiz to explain all of the confusing acronyms, highlighting the number of people involved in taking care of autistic kids. It’s a movie that is designed to move the audience to action, with 5% of the profits from the picture going to the two organisations depicted. Given how spectacular the film is, the box-office takings should be ample, and in fact, the film would not have been out of place in competition at Cannes.
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