The Eighth Day Review

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Georges, a man with Downs syndrome, has fled from his home and forms a bond with emotionally embattled Harry and the relationship takes Harry on a road to self-discovery.


Understandably, if glibly, labelled the Euro-Rainman, Jaco Van Dormael's Cannes '96 favourite is an energetic modern parable woven around a plot of politically straight- laced, crowd-pleasing simplicity - the cynical washed-up straight man rediscovering the beauty of existence care of the innocent wisdom of a young Down's syndrome man.

Considering the sentimental land mines awaiting such subject matter, this film is gratifyingly clear-headed, funny and heartfelt rather than gushy. Framed by magical overtones (with added quirky special effects), the relationship between life-seared banker Harry (Auteil), freezing out his estranged family, and the forlorn Down's syndrome man Georges (Duquenne), absconded from his home, is formed in face of adversity and shared experience. After first trying to shake his companion, Harry comes to realise that George has a passion for life he lacks.

The film thrives on the wonderful chemistry developed between Auteil and the astonishingly gifted Duquenne, telling of the way true friendships develop through mutual need showing Auteil as the one handicapped in his emotional reticence and Duquenne the one liberated. And cynical tut-tutting about exploitation is denied in Dormael's willingness to display the reality of Duquenne's condition - violent tantrums being a fiercesome speciality.

The surreal sideshows too often slip into absurdity (Duquenne's special-care posse stealing a mini-bus is pure farce), but Dormael's quest to penetrate our prejudices is never the impassioned rant it could have deteriorated into. Quite the opposite in fact. Genuinely touching.

This film is gratifyingly clear-headed, funny and heartfelt rather than gushy.