SSIFF Review: Nakache & Toledano's 'The Specials' is Really Special
by Alex Billington
September 26, 2019
Awww wow, The Specials is really something wonderful. Instantly one of my favorite films of the year. The Specials is the latest feature from writers / directors Olivier Nakache & Éric Toledano, the same two French filmmakers who made the hit film The Intouchables a few years back. This originally premiered as the Closing Night film at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, but I missed it there. I finally caught up with it at the San Sebastian Film Festival and oh my goodness, I love it with all my heart. A spectacular film across the board, delivering in every sense - profound performances, engaging storytelling, energetic music, sincere moments of empathy and understanding. It's a film with a hard-hitting message (that we must take care of every last human – especially those that society rejects), yet one of the finest examples of a message film in years. It will move you to tears and motivate you to make more of an effort to support more people.
Based on a true story and inspired by real people, The Specials is about Bruno and Malik, two friends who have lived for twenty years in a different world: that of autistic children and adolescents. With the help of two non-profit organizations, they train young people to care for cases of severe autism. They work without certification, outside of the typical medical / support community, to provide vital care for many who need it. Vincent Cassel plays Bruno, Reda Kateb plays Malik, both very experienced actors who give this film their very best. Both take on their roles with a seriousness and earnestness that yields so much more depth than most other performances in any film. And boy does it make a difference, as the humanity they offer us with ardent gravitas makes the film that much more moving. Without these two near-perfect performances it wouldn't nearly have as much of an impact as it does. Especially considering they are playing real people.
This is one of those extraordinary movies that reminds you how much movies matter when you wonder "why do I go watch movies?" It's so pure and joyful, talking about serious things but handling it all with such care and integrity. It pulls you in, gives you plenty to laugh at and smile at, and warms your heart as it plays out. If you ever stop and wonder "do movies make a difference?" or "why do I keep watching so many movies?" this one answers all these questions. It's a beautifully poignant, exhilarating, terrifically optimistic reminder of the power of humanity and the power of selflessness. It's also a reminder of how important it is we give as much of ourselves as we can to help others. And it does all this under two hours, providing so much to enjoy as big screen entertainment in addition to acting as a portrait of two (or more) remarkable people who never get the recognition they deserve in modern society. They deserve it. They are both heroes, without a doubt.
There isn't a backstory provided for anyone in the film, which is fine. We don't always need one. Just give us a look at what they're doing now, and we can understand. Most of the plot involves Bruno and Malik being "inspected" by two official people who are required to determine whether they should be allowed to continue to operate without certification or government oversight. Watching them work (in the film), it's obvious to the audience that the answer is certainly yes, they are essential and necessary and should continue to have this freedom, or society (and the people who need the help the most) will suffer. But, of course, the film shows that they have to earn this, they have to prove it indefinitely. And it certainly does - another example of how this film delivers in terms of story, too. It's not just about the people, it's about why these people are important, and takes us on that journey by proving to us their intrinsic value – beyond any possible doubt.
I also owe it to this film for introducing me to and making me a huge fan of the German music duo called Grandbrothers. They did the score for the film, which plays a few times in a very powerful way that burst right through my chest into my heart. Their piano-electro sound is sublime and adds an enhanced emotional layer on top of everything we're seeing, utilized in just the right way in scenes to accent the profundity of the entire film. I really don't have any bad things to say about this film, there's not much I can criticize nor do I even want to. It's exceptional in every sense, not only as filmmaking that exceeds expectations, but also stirs up something deep inside of all of us that we need to embrace. What more can I do. How can I really help. Movies like this are what I love the most about cinema: storytelling for the soul. It's enthusiastic and uplifting, astoundingly moving and unforgettable. I want to show this film to everyone, we all need to see it.
Alex's SSIFF 2019 Rating: 9.5 out of 10
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