Hors normes [The Specials] (2019)

Hors normes
Director: Olivier Nakache, Éric Toledano
Writer: Olivier Nakache, Éric Toledano
Cast: Vincent Cassel, Reda Kateb, Hélène Vincent, Bryan Mialoundama, Alban Ivanov, Benjamin Lesieur, Marco Locatelli, Catherine Mouchet, Frédéric Pierrot, Suliane Brahim, Lyna Khoudri, Aloïse Sauvage, Djibril Yoni
Seen on: 10.1.2020

Content Note: ableism

Bruno (Vincent Cassel) and Malik (Reda Kateb) are best friends and also do the same job: they each run organizations that work with disabled and/or neuroatypical people, mostly autistic teens and young adults that everybody else seems to have given up on. When Bruno’s organization is being inspected again, it just adds to his overall workload and frustration. As if he hadn’t enough on his plate already, trying to do right by all of the children in his care.

I was hesitant about seeing the film, given that Intouchables has a less than great record when it comes to handling disability (I didn’t see it at the time, so my review linked above is very hype-y, but I have learned in the last decade). But since I worked with autistic children myself and since I like Cassel and Kateb, I figured I’d give it a go. I really, really, shouldn’t have. Hors normes is a sanctification of social workers that fails to take into account the perspective of the people they work with for even a second. That’s not how you make a film about such a sensitive topic. Or about any topic.

The film poster showing Bruno (Vincent Cassel) and Mailk (Reda Kateb).

I come from a family of social workers and counsellors, and have worked in the field in various capacities myself. I know how hard the job is and how much people working it usually have to deal with all kinds of red tape. It sucks a lot of the times. Sometimes that red tape does become chicanery. It’s always tied to money in the end and there is never enough of that for any kind of social work. But dammit, inspections and rules are there for a fucking reason and to pretend – like the film does – that they are just a hassle, keeping the people who run organizations like the ones shown here from doing their actual job? That’s not only wrong, it’s dangerous. The inspectors here were neither mean nor out to get Bruno, they were trying to do their job in a way that makes sense for everyone.

But the film was so caught up in the narrative of how commendable and awesome and self-sacrificing and miracle-working Bruno is that it was absolutely unable to show the inspectors as anything but antagonists, representatives of a rotten system. And the system is rotten – but the problem is not that there are too many rules and regulations. It’s that there are far from enough resources.

Burno (Vincent Cassel) comforting Joseph (Benjamin Lessieur).

Unfortunately, there is no meaningful criticism of the system to be found in this film. Nor is the perspective of the disabled/neuroatypical clients considered for even a second (the people everybody is working for, supposedly) – despite the fact that they actually cast disabled/neuroatypical people in the roles, which was the one thing the film gets unarguably right. Instead we get a tearful mother who talks about how she probably has to kill her autistic son should she become able to take care of him. And the framing is how awful the situation is for her.

I was completely floored at the sheer, pure, unfiltered benevolent ableism in this film, I can barely find words for it. Rarely have I seen a film that allows disabled/neuroatypical so little agency or denies them a voice in their own story so completely. It’s an utter failure.

Malik (Reda Kateb) and Fabrice (Djibril Yoni) ice-skating with a client, a young woman.

Summarizing: Stay far away.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.