“An Infinite Tenderness” is a beautiful piece of fiction, disguising itself as a documentary, exploring the world of brain-damaged children. It has no A-listers and no dialogue, but is probably more moving than any other film you’ll see this year.
Hollywood is full of saccharine, off-putting, and thoroughly uninspiring films about the mentally disabled. This French experiment challenges preconceptions of a group of people viewed alternately with pity and mocking derision.
Simon is a boy confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak, who spends his lonely and monotonous days in a white-washed children’s home, cared for with a grim sense of duty by a black nurse.
The beginning of the film is reminiscent of the first 20 minutes of Mark Hanlon’s 1999 indie thriller “Buddy Boy” in its sense of gloom and repetition, but unlike Hanlon’s abused stuttering protagonist Francis, Simon keeps a positive attitude for a while, until he too loses his thunder and begins to look at each new day with apprehension and low spirits.
That is, until he meets Emmanuele, who, contrary to the Netflix description, is quite male. Emmanuelle, who has a very similar disability to Simon, communicates through dog-like barks and howls. They begin to connect through touch, art, and music, and open a door inside themselves they didn’t know existed.
Now this all sounds very Hollywood, with big-name actors hammily trying to get in touch with their inner spastic, but these kids have an inherent lovability that makes you sympathize with their plight.
They are resilient, without self-pity, even as life takes a s**t in their face. I felt a connection with Simon within the first five minutes. How often can you say that about a character, even one who does speak?
The film is tough going at first, with nothing happening within the first 45 minutes or so, but hang in there, because at about that point it picks up its pace. There’s even a death.
Moreover, this movie changed the way I looked at the severely retarded. Previously I saw these people as having little to offer anyone, almost parasitic in their dependance. When I watched this movie, I saw how much these two had to offer each other, in comfort, in affection. I know pretty, sappy, right? The child actors are physically disabled and mute but intellectually unimpaired, and Pierre Jallaud, directs them with finesse.
“An Infinite Tenderness” is for the patient only. But if you are one of those patient few, looking for that obscure film to move and wow you, I have one thing to say — watch this movie. Because if you are patient, chances are you won’t be disappointed.