Current Issue #488

Film Review:
The Extraordinary
(Hors Normes)

Filmmaking duo Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano’s follow-up to The Intouchables is harder, and less user friendly, but still trés moving.

Drawn from the work of Stéphane Benhamou and Daoud Tatou, whom these filmmakers observed for some two years, this has intense Parisian star Vincent Cassel at its heart, and although he’s known for darker, even freakier movies (La Haine, Irreversible, Black Swan, the recent Underwater), he’s wonderfully restrained and even – gasp! – sweet here.

His whiskery Bruno Haroche runs an association that cares for children and young adults with autism, and he’s introduced pursuing Emilie (Suzanne-Marie Gabriell) through a packed mall when she makes one of several getaways during a day out. Bruno regularly teams up with Malik (Reda Kateb), and an eventful, vaguely chaotic narrative shows the work they do separately and together, although Bruno does tend to be the chief focus. He’s even seen going on a few dates, but they tend to end badly as he’s always called away to tend to some problem.

There are many plot threads and plenty of supporting characters, and Nakache and Toledano mostly keep them all under control. We follow, for example, how Bruno helps get Joseph (Benjamin Lesieur) a job and how happy this makes Joseph, although he can’t resist pulling the emergency stop on the Metro home and getting into trouble again. Autistic actor Lesieur gives a charming, funny performance but he doesn’t play cute either, especially when he keeps asking Bruno why he can’t hit his mother when she annoys him.

There’s also fledgling caregiver Dylan (Bryan Mialoundama), who’s assigned to work with the long-institutionalised and sometimes violent Valentin (Marco Locatelli), and Dylan is deeply affected and starts to see how both of them have such trouble expressing powerful emotions. Dylan’s gentle flirtation with nice speech therapist Ludivine (Lyna Khoudri) is another brief but pleasing highlight, even if we’re left unsure where it leads.

Other dramatic treatments of this sort of material would have sentimentally demonstrated how rewarding it can be to work with people with special needs, but Nakache and Toledano dare to subtly show that it can be challenging. Joseph’s Mum Hélène (Hélène Vincent) has a powerful scene where she discusses how her son was angry and destructive before his time with Bruno and the gang, but despite the scary memory you know that she never stopped loving him.

And Bruno himself isn’t given Oscar/César-worthy speeches or impassioned monologues as well. Oh no, he hasn’t got time for that, particularly while a pair of Inspecteurs (Frédéric Pierrot and Suliane Brahim) are prowling around and, naturally, trying to shut him down. Extraordinary indeed.

Finally: yes, that title. The original, Hors Normes, which means something like Outside Norms, was tricky to translate, and in some regions this is instead known as The Specials. But not here due to the negative connotation of that word: no, it’s The Extraordinary, which is bad too.

Ah, well, c’est la vie.

Reviewer Rating

The Extraordinary (Hors Normes) (M) is now available on video on demand and DVD

DM Bradley

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