The Extraordinary (Hors Normes) (2019)

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I wasn’t expecting to love this feature, by writer directors Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano, so much. Their huge hit The Intouchables (2011) achieved all the right notes of feel-good, odd couple drama with a social subtext and rarely overplayed its hand. It felt like an elegant and understated Hollywood pic though and it is unsurprising that it was re-made in 2017 as The Upside (which I can’t bear to watch). I was expecting the same with The Extraordinary and so was unprepared for its social and emotional depth and understated authenticity.

It focuses primarily on two men, Bruno (Vincent Cassel) and Malik (Reda Kateb) who run grassroots organisations in Paris that work together to meet the needs of those no one else will help. Bruno’s Voice of the Righteous takes in young people with complex disabilities and behavioural issues, the ones who otherwise would be institutionalised, medicated and restrained. Malik runs The Hatch, a program to take young people from the Projects who are sunk deep in poverty, drugs and crime and give them the chance to be one-to-one carers for Bruno’s charges.

There are several narrative threads; Dylan (Bryan Mialoundama) is a new recruit to The Hatch and is paired with new and seemingly hopeless case Valentin (Marco Locatelli), the organisations are undergoing a government inspection as they don’t have any of the required certification and it is clear that Bruno is overworked and overwhelmed by the unending need for his help.

The quest to find Joseph (Benjamin Lesieur) a job is at the heart of the story and we understand his importance to Bruno and how isolating it is to be ‘extraordinary’. The title has two meanings I expect – those who are out of the ordinary, like Joseph and Valentin, and the extraordinary dedication of people like Bruno and Malik.

There is a clear social message; that government funding and regulations encourage organisations to cherry pick the easier cases, leaving many people to fall through the cracks. It avoids feeling didactic by focusing on individuals, personalising what may seem like somebody else’s problem, and too big a problem for those of us who can ignore it.

Bruno and Malik are based on real people – Stéphane Benhamou and Daoud Tatou – who we see in the closing credits. The directors spent two years with them before creating the film. Many of the young people with disabilities feel so authentic it’s hard to believe they are played by people without disability.

I wish we had heard the voice of more women in the story but perhaps this is indicative of the religious conservatism of Voice of the Righteous. They are mainly mothers and potential love interests but it was delightful to briefly see the radiant Lyna Khoudri (Papicha (2019)) again and the film has such heart it seems petty to be concerned. Fair representation for able-bodied women pales in comparison to the marginalisation of people with complex disability.

This film feels like essential viewing to understand the depths of inequity that exist under our noses.


Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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