The Eighth Day

My candidate for the most disgusting feature at Cannes in 1996, this French-Belgian film by Jaco van Dormael is shameless. The obvious precedent is Rain Man, but that film’s opportunism hinged on the decision of a famous star, Dustin Hoffman, to play an idiot savant alongside Tom Cruise. Here the recipe consists of casting a star, Daniel Auteuil, alongside a person who really has Down’s syndrome, Pascal Duquenne. The danger of such calculation is that the pseudoreality of the star and the hyperreality of his costar might clash, a possibility cleverly avoided through the use of an expanding magical realism that turns both characters into animated cartoon figures, so that the best reference may be neither Rain Man nor the lachrymose Zorba the Greek but the overblown child’s landscape of the tear-jerking Dumbo. In awarding the actor’s prize jointly to both leads, the Cannes jury took the bait, and the tearful standing ovation in the Palais seemed to express a self-congratulatory recognition that a handicapped person is just as lovable as a movie star, that a movie star is just as real as a handicapped person, and that genuine innocence can’t survive in the worldexcept it does, because this film exploits it. (JR)

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