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Movie Reviews

The Eigth Day  

A lot of movies have been made concerning people with disabilities, either physical or mental. Rain Man and Children of a Lesser God were two Oscar-winning examples of films which dealt with the unique situation of people who are not like completely able-bodied persons. Movies of this nature usually share a common trait, as they are intended to open non-disabled people`s eyes to the obvious; just because some people suffer from autism or deafness doesn`t mean they aren`t people too. The films work in much the same way as The Defiant Ones and In the Heat of the Night did for racism: to show us, as "outsiders" to the issue at hand, that marginalised groups should not be marginalised.

The depiction of mental disabilities is a touchy subject, however, because the fear may be for some that the movie will end up exploiting the protagonists` limitations for cheap laughs. Some of us, in an attempt to show that we are very much concerned with the treatment of handicapped people, at least in the public arena of films and theatre-going, may be uncomfortable when we are witness to the peculiar nature of those who see the world differently. Some may even think this is an insult, or an embarrassment. However, those same people never bother to consult actual people with these problems, who might actually not be bothered by such depictions, and could, in fact, be very much amused.

This brings us to The Eighth Day, whose main character has Down`s Syndrome. There are a lot of laughs in this picture, mostly rooted in the actions and behaviour of this individual. After playfully sticking the middle finger not once, but twice, to a trucker, he manages to get his friend in a fight with the now-angry driver. He makes a scene at the shoe store when he demands a pair - any pair - of shoes. And he and a bunch of his friends from the institution manage to steal a car from inside a shopping center so they can help plan a birthday party for the character`s friend`s daughter. And, I must admit, I was fairly amused by much of this material. And I figure the old saying must be said here - I wasn`t laughing at him, but with him!

The story itself details the adventures of Georges, the character with Down`s Syndrome, when he inadvertently encounters Harry, a repressed and bored businessman, in a rainy night on the middle of the road. Georges has escaped from the institution, and Harry, to his chagrin, soon finds himself in charge of this guy. The story turns into a road movie as well as a change in Harry`s character, as he becomes less of a stuffed shirt and more of a sensitive guy who is able to be much more caring and emotional.

The character of Georges is certainly a very developed presence, and is introduced in a very bizarre and eccentric way. As he describes his very own unique version of the first chapter of Genesis, we will see that the film will attempt just as valiantly, if not more, to depict Georges as plainly an odd, eccentric person as any other equally odd, eccentric person as it does to depict him as a victim of Down`s Syndrome. In a sense, this breaks the ice, because we are free to be amused and delighted by him, just as with any other comic character. I very quickly saw Georges as simply a silly and amusing guy, which is probably what the film was aiming for me to feel, and is certainly more convincing than long-winded speeches on the dignity and humanity of the mentally challenged, which should be obvious. We are also sympathetic with Georges, because, like all of us, he just wants to be accepted, to find love, and friendship. One of the more pure and touching moments is after Harry, after abandoning Georges in the middle of nowhere, goes back to him, realizing that he is truly responsible for him. When Harry returns, all Georges can do is embrace him wildly and say "you really like me."

Daniel Auteil, as Harry, seems to have the emotionally repressed man down to a science. In Un Couer En Hiver, he played someone unable to love like a normal man, even when the object of his affection is none other than Emmanuelle Beart. The Eighth Day presents a comic version of this character, as he lives the same boring day every day, unable to let loose until Georges comes along to teach him some lessons. One scene in particular made me laugh a little bit because it reminded me of a scene from my friend`s favourite shows, The Powerpuff Girls (She`s really into cartoons, okay???), in which a character repeats exactly the same activities every day as part of a soul-deadening example of all work and no play. Auteil does essentially the same scene here, and becomes a running gag. I`ll have to tell her about this one.

Overall, this is a quite entertaining movie, with some great comedy, affecting (if sappy) drama, as well as some truly bizarre moments of filmmaking which must be seen to be believed. Certainly not a bad choice for a foreign film.

David Macdonald

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