Vincent Cassel, Reda Kateb
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…has moments of grace and the little victories it chronicles are heart-warming enough to make a film that earns our affection as well as our patience.
Autism is a complex condition and therefore providing for people who have it, is also a complex challenge. This semi-fictionalised drama deals with some people who have taken that challenge head on by providing specialist care for autistic teenagers in their centre in France. The first person we meet is Bruno (Vincent Cassel), who is constantly scurrying around, flying from place to place, missing meetings but always putting the needs of his teenage clients first.ccccccccc
The centre is called The Voice of the Righteous, a multi-faith hostel where the staffing ratio has to be just about one to one. The centre is seemingly getting results where no one else can, but is also subject to a slightly hostile oversight by the French authorities. Bruno has another struggle, which is to prevent the inspectors from de-funding him. His ally and co-leader is Malik (Reda Kateb), who worries that Bruno may be spreading himself too thin. Both of them need to be fully functioning if they are going to help the teenagers that they are so committed to.
It has to be said that the film is quite unstructured in a way (a bit like Bruno and Maliks’ working days perhaps), as it simply follows the kids having one little incident or upset after another. Their lives are prone to being quite repetitive and progress is often slow. One kid feels compelled to pull the emergency cord whenever he travels on the train, and to get through a whole journey without doing that is a major victory. Another boy is so prone to repeatedly bashing himself that he has been put in a boxer’s sparring headgear to protect himself. To remove that would be another major advance.
Directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano obviously feel passionate about promoting the humane treatment of people with special needs. After all, for years society simply locked kids like this away and more or less forgot about them. Incidentally, Nakache and Toledano made The Intouchables (2011), and they clearly have got a feel for this kind of subject matter and treatment. They don’t quite bring off a similar coup here, but then they don’t have the chemistry that Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy brought to that.
Cassel does his best to carry this film. He is a talented actor who can play anything really. Here he plays against type in the sense that he is not too abrasive or dangerous and also brings small but chamming touches of tenderness to his work with the kids.
The film might be regarded by some as a kind of essay on better ways to treat autism and one which can’t help itself editorialising in support of that idea. Still, for all its structural flaws, it has moments of grace and the little victories it chronicles are heart-warming enough to make a film that earns our affection as well as our patience.