Loosely based on the true story of Stephane Benhamou, who ran a shelter for autistic children and adolescents in Paris, welcoming anyone who hospitals had turned their backs on due to the severity of their condition, Hors Normes (The Specials) is an awkwardly-titled social-issue drama with great heart.
Helmed by Intouchables’ Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, it stars Vincent Cassel as Benhamou stand-in, Bruno, and Reda Kateb as Malik, who is based on the real-life figure of social worker Daoud Tatou. These two frequently work together, helping those who have been cast aside by the French system. However, Bruno lacks the funds, staff and space to keep the shelter going, and the state inspectors want to close him down.
At times repetitive, the drama could have been developed a bit more, especially when it comes to the central duo, their friendship and their different religious backgrounds. The film often gets stuck in the confines of being a social-issue drama and some of the storytelling suffers as a consequence. Still, the acting is strong across the board, with an ensemble that includes professionals (Cassel and Kateb are perfectly cast), non-professionals and autistic actors, such as Benjamin Lesieur and Marco Locatelli, who are both excellent. The Specials remains a heartfelt film that commendably never soft-pedals the issues at stake, one which delivers a sobering message about the cruel lack of care options in supposed civilised society.
Hors Normes (The Specials) | Directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano (France, 2019), with Vincent Cassel, Reda Kateb. Starts Dec 5.
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