Tom Augustine on what films to see - and what to avoid - this weekend
The word "autism" is spoken only rarely in The Extraordinary (M), the new film from The Intouchables creators Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano. The intention is clear - this is a film intent on viewing its subjects as people, not just diagnoses. Set in modern-day France and based on a true story, the film follows the day-to-day struggles of a dedicated group of caregivers trying to provide stable housing and round-the-clock support for some of the most severe cases in the system – people who require support families can't provide by themselves.
Vincent Cassel, as Bruno, the head of the organisation, is at the centre of the film. Often cast as menacing villains or rough-and-tumble types, Cassel is a wonderful surprise here, morphing into something warm, fatherly and open.
I'll confess to not having seen The Intouchables, despite the urging of every mum of a certain age I speak to. That film is known because of its broad, heartstring-tugging themes, worthwhile social issues and sequences that play toward the more sentimental among us (myself included). These characteristics are present in The Extraordinary but it lacks subtlety and nuance. However, what it lacks there, it more than makes up for in heart and patience, centring on strong characters and a real sensitivity to the lived experience of its subjects that never becomes exploitative.
It's an imperfect film - particularly in a sub-plot involving a wayward youth brought on as a counsellor to one of the most high-risk subjects - but when a film means as well as this one does, it's difficult not to get swept away in the essential kindness it radiates.
Rating: Four stars.
It's a difficult thing to capture the life of a revered figure in the brief expanse of a feature film - a challenge that many of the best documentaries (for example, last year's Rolling Thunder Revue) avoid by simply admitting this. It's a challenge that Frida Kahlo: Viva La Vida (dir. Giovanni Troilo, rated E) struggles to overcome. A vibrant, colourful journey through the life of Frida Kahlo, one of the great artists of the 20th century, the documentary combines revealing archival footage, recreations, interpretive artistic sequences, interviews and, bizarrely, narration by Asia Argento. This is frequently spoken directly to camera to weave a kind of poetic rendition of the story of Frida's life. Viva La Vida's effusiveness proves effective in recounting the life of Kahlo but rarely digs beyond that. As an introduction to the great figure, it is an engrossing and frequently visually ravishing experience that treats its figure with appropriate reverence and care. However, for anyone hoping on a new perspective or interpretation, too much of the film's structure feels like padding rather than a refreshing approach.
Rating: Three stars.