The Extraordinary (Hors Normes)
Directed by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano. Featuring Vincent Cassel, Reda Kateb, Hélène Vincent, Bryan Mialoundama, Alban Ivanov, Benjamin Lesieur, Marco Locatelli, and Catherine Mouchet.
In French with English subtitles. Showing at the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 2020 across Australia.
This French drama was released as Hors Normes at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019, and then in New York a few months later as The Specials. It was renamed The Extraordinary in Australia for the opening of the 2020 Alliance Francaise French Film Festival. This film is based on the true story of Stéphane Benhamou (portrayed as Bruno in the film) who runs a shelter for autistic youth who have been rejected by numerous government health and welfare institutions.
Bruno (Cassel) runs a shelter and various support activities in inner-city Paris for severely autistic young people, whose uncontrolled and occasionally violent or confronting behaviour has proved too difficult for their families and for other care agencies certified by the French Health Services. Working with his friend and colleague Malik (Kateb) and a group of young volunteer care-workers, they dedicate long hours, night and day, to do what they can to provide support. They have a lack of space and a lack of funds, and their personal lives are constantly interrupted to deal with emergency situations. And despite the fact that other institutions have given up on those most severely autistic, the French Health Services decide to undertake an inquiry to close down this uncertified shelter because of its unqualified carers and inadequate facilities.
There are some profoundly moving scenes in this film, but the sometimes heavy theme is balanced with smile-moments of awkward flirting and beams of hope. Based on real events in 2017, as France was cutting back public funding for youth and health services leaving many in desperate situations, it is clear that the film makers wanted this true story splashed across the screen. They wanted to explore the forgotten kids in our world, and they do so by offering a sense of community spirit, human dignity and hope in a place of bureaucracy and soulless economics.
The acting is superb and the script – by the two directors Toledano and Nakache – is equally superb. The music (Grandbrothers) is dynamic and impactful. I liked it very much. The scenes are well edited (Dorian Rigal-Ansous), giving it a fresh gritty vibrancy. The generous servings of humour are heart-warming and counterbalance the more serious tone of the film. I found that I laughed and smiled, and at other times watched in deep silence, eyes filling with water. This is a beautiful film. This film, in these days of COVID-19, may miss a wider audience because it is confined to a handful of international film festivals that are still running. But I recommend it; it has a message that is relevant, hopeful and inspiring; and the acting is spot-on.
Reviewed by Robin Stevens – Rated 4/5