By Shelley Webber
Having a profoundly autistic relative made our next Film Society movie, The Specials, a passion project for directors Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache.
One of Toledano’s family members in Paris benefited greatly from the aid of the two men who are the basis of the film and whose sole mission is to provide care for autism cases so severe that they have been abandoned by the system. The Specials is a fictionalized version of real events.
Bruno, an Orthodox Jew, runs a facility providing round-the-clock care for young people with autism and cannot bear to refuse anyone in need. He offers opportunities and a chance for interaction for those who might otherwise be isolated or locked away. He works closely with Malik, a Muslim, who is in charge of a related program that takes troubled teens from Paris’s slums to work as caregivers for the autistic youth in Bruno’s care. The stickler is that Bruno has been running his facility without the proper certification for years and now officials are reviewing his organization with an eye to shutting it down.
You get into this film from the very first minutes; as the story unfolds, you forget you’re watching a movie. The intense storylines of the autistic and troubled youth are lightened by the camaraderie between Bruno and Malik as they try to balance their personal lives with their consuming work. There’s a memorably eclectic cast of characters – all but one of the autistic kids are played by people with autism, and many playing Malik’s trainees are also non-professionals, giving the story an authentic feel.
Toledano and Nakache know their subject inside out. The film handles autism with dignity and respect, and avoids cliches and stereotypes. A lot of information is delivered as they genuinely want to help us out of our ignorance on the subject. They even attempt to visually convey the sensations an autistic person might experience, including the use of intimate handheld shots from their perspective. The Specials takes an inherently difficult subject and uses it to tell a touching and powerful story.
The Specials has 2 showings on Saturday, March 14 at 5 and 7:30 p.m. at the Salmar Classic. Five per cent of the profits made on the film go to support the two programs in Paris.