Directors: Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano
Running Time: 114 minutes
Synopsis: For twenty years, Bruno and Malik have lived in a different world: the world of autistic children and teens. In charge of two separate non-profit organizations (The Hatch and The Shelter), they train young people from underprivileged areas to be caregivers for extreme cases that have been refused by all other institutions. It's an exceptional partnership, outside of traditional settings. However, Bruno and Malik work without official certification. Their future become unclear when they come under the scrutiny of the government, and they must fight for their communities to in order to survive.
Release Date: March, 2020
Question: What was your first contact like with Éric Toledano and Olivier Nakache?
Vincent Cassel : When they first offered me the film, they explained to me how important it was to them. They had had this project for a long time but had not felt ready to direct it. I remember, they had not written a single line when we first met. I just asked them not to make me read countless drafts of the screenplay. I explained that I was in no hurry, and that I would wait for them.
Question: Had you wanted to work with them?
Vincent Cassel : Yes, and I told them so. I was very curious. I knew their work, I saw what they were able to do, but I did not really know how they managed to do it. I quickly understood. They have faith in their screenplay, but they keep on searching for stuff all the time. For me, true actor's direction is the way a director, or in this case, two directors look at an actor. They discerned something in me that I did not suspect was there, things I didn't know I was capable of "bringing out".
Question: Do you remember your first visit to the association the "Silence des Justes"?
Vincent Cassel : I was rather discombobulated. But also, completely overcome. I was surprised to find myself in tears. I asked myself: "How am I going to work with these kids, these teens and these adults? How will I detach myself from these sometimes very serious cases of autism?" Observing Stéphane and our contacts there, I understood that they dedicated their lives to bettering those of their "residents", at the price of their own. Unsentimentally. They are "doers". The autistic suffer from an inability to communicate. But when you stimulate them, you can enrich their sensory experience. In other words, a guy who has spent twenty years in this officially recognized not-for-profit organization does not look the same as someone who is just starting out.
Question: How did you shake off those fears you mentioned?
Vincent Cassel : I had to face up to my own issues. I spent time with them, and especially I stopped being such a crybaby. I told myself time and again that I should not be afraid to step up to the front lines and get slapped in the face two or three times. Some of them are pretty strong. One day, Éric and Olivier took me to be interviewed by the Papotin, a paper put out by autistic teenagers and adults. And that experience also acted as a trigger.
Vincent Cassel : They invite personalities (football players, musicians, actors, politicians…) under a circus tent to be interviewed by a panel of journalists. Some of them become so obsessed by one detail, that no one can follow them anymore. Others will recite a poem based on onomatopoeia. An abstract, fun poetic experience, with some obvious pearls. There is no room for pretence or sham. You're "naked" out there. You just have to let yourself go.
Question: You had a "model": Stéphane Benhamou…
Vincent Cassel : Bruno, my character, is Stéphane without being Stéphane. Of course, I went to see him alone at the association, or went for a spin with him from time to time. I observed his silhouette, his physical attitudes, what he exuded as a human being. It may seem strange, but I often think of the characters I play in terms of textures. Stéphane has a way of carrying himself that says a lot to me. It tells us who he is. He only came on set twice and still! We had to drag him there. His work is so urgent. Altruism? Humanism? The reasons for which he does what he does are in fact very simple.
Question: You're talking about of his body, but what precisely did you "borrow" from him?
Vincent Cassel : His goatee, his eyes – he often abstains from looking at people to avoid making them feel uncomfortable– his worrying too. I started out with the loneliness I perceived in a man without a wife or children, and who finds fulfilment by giving love to the autistic with whom he works. But we extrapolated with Stéphane. Like the "Shidduch" he makes use of.
Question: He is a practicing Jew, and works with Malik, a Muslim played by Reda Kateb…
Vincent Cassel : From the very start, we asked ourselves: "What do we do about religion?" It's in there with the kippas, veils and mezuzot. Besides, we shot some scenes that evoked it even more, but Éric and Olivier cut them out during the edit. And that's just as good. In the film, religion is shown as it is practiced in these associations. An issue that everywhere else is sensitive and inextricable is not like that at all for their members
Question: Besides, Malik only reveals in an offhand line that he is a Muslim and has three children…
Vincent Cassel : And furthermore, he says it as a joke, while sitting in on the "Shidduch" that Bruno does everything to avoid.
Question: The "Shidduchim" are the pretext for some rather comical scenes…
Vincent Cassel : From "Hate" to "Irreversible", I have always tried to inject some comedy into my darkest roles. Here I play a guy who is so involved in his work, that I was sometimes afraid I was the least funny character in the film. Luckily, in those encounters Bruno constantly screws up. You become a couple when you feel like you want to. He has so much to do. I respect the "Shidduch" but falling in love is not always easy. The other person really has to match a list of 15 criteria. In that case, if it works you really have to believe in God…
Question: Did you know - Reda Kateb?
Vincent Cassel : I felt like we were members of the same family. I like his somewhat rugged features, his Benicio Del Toro or Javier Bardem look. He's large calibre. A street dandy. The epitome of class. Our encounter was equal to what I was expecting. I also loved the comic power and generosity of Alban Ivanov. What an obvious choice! When he arrives late on set because he didn't hear the word "Action", you really should be filming him. That in itself is very interesting.
Question: You have many scenes with Benjamin Lesieur (Joseph). How did you approach them?
Vincent Cassel : Were we playing? Not playing? We played. Although I couldn't say at what. I felt reassured when he was having fun too. Finding his rhythm. Doing second takes. He was thrilled to be there. In the right place. Happy. Well yes, as an actor, he does have some peculiarities And that's how I talked to him: "It would be a lot easier if you stepped to one side, repeat after me, say it once more." Éric and Olivier are two voices. They never get in each other's way, but they sometimes do give different indications and too bad for you. I soon went to ask them "Please stop talking to him. I'm the one who does that. Like Bruno in the film". Okay, of course it didn't always work. Historically, Benjamin is the first of the autistic kids whom Stéphane took care of. If he doesn't want to give you the time of day, he'll cut you dead. But if he likes you, he is capable of some very powerful emotional demonstrations.
Question: The dance scene is crazily poetic…
Vincent Cassel : Some of them dance. Some play the piano. You don't always understand everything, but wow! Is it ever beautiful! And then there are some who don't do anything. One day, during a workshop, I saw one of them lying in a booth with the little lights they light up to stimulate the autistic. 15 years ago, he didn't express himself because he couldn't speak, but what intelligence in his eyes – the eyes of the Little Prince – they transfix you. What lurks behind those eyes? What can his thought processes be like?
Question: The film asks a basic question: should you upset norms?
Vincent Cassel : Can you allow yourself to think differently? Anyone who in today's society has something to offer thinks differently. Stéphane Benhamou goes all out to find solutions in a system that has gone haywire. He disregards the legislator. And inspires legislators who will perhaps help the situation evolve. The Extraordinary is not a film about autism; it is about commitment and people who care for others.
Question: In what state of mind did you approach the scene that pits you against the IGAS inspectors?
Vincent Cassel : We had to find a rhythm and an imperative to respect: not to turn the sequence into the "emotional sequence ". Bruno is angry, but he knows what he wants. Is there a little bit of cunning in his attitude? In Brazil, they have an expression for that: you need to know how to cry to obtain what you need.
Question: The monitors you play with paint the portrait of a generation that is involved…
Vincent Cassel : They have found a meaning for their lives. Éric and Olivier do not go into the woes of the inner city. They show a band of superheroes 19-20 years old who do a job that three-quarters of us would be incapable of doing.
Question: You often say that each of your films is a voyage. How did this one start?
Reda Kateb: I immediately felt "chemically" confident with Éric and Olivier, who came to see me in the small café where I hang out in Montreuil. I felt that in spite of the considerable success of their films, they too shared this idea of a voyage. The desire to always put the counters at zero, to consider each feature film your first. I understood the force, the restlessness, the "electric charge" that animated them: paying tribute to the work of Stéphane Benhamou and Daoud Tatou. I got carried away when I screened their documentary: On Devrait En Faire Un Film. I didn't know anything about autism other than what I saw in films like Rain Man or Shine. Here it was a question of playing with non-verbal autistic young people. Olivier took me to visit the premises of "Le Silence des justes". I was immediately captivated, but also very touched. I discovered a very rich world that promised an intense adventure in which I would move freely. Éric et Olivier make a big deal out of the actor's freedom. They are very committed to it.
Question: Your character, Malik, is inspired by Daoud Tatou, how did you work with him?
Reda Kateb: Before even reading the script, I got into one of those vans that pick up autistic kids each morning at their family homes to drive them to their activities. I went to play soccer with them in a gym and to lunch at "Le Relais IDF", his association. Then Daoud took me to Morocco, to Rabat and especially Oujda, where he is building the first centre for the autistic in North Africa. Like "Le Silence des Justes", it has a magnificent name: "Les Oiseaux du Paradis" (Birds of Paradise). The situation for the autistic is even worse there than here in France. So, we went to visit a family with several autistic children. One of them was tied to the wall. I spent the following night staring at pictures of my 4-year-old son on my phone. When you see the distress of some situations and the humane response that Stéphane and Daoud bring, a kind of responsibility begins to weigh on you at the idea of playing them. Some kind of validation on their part was important to me. I received their blessing, but I also had to free myself from them, because The Extraordinary is not a biopic about Stéphane and Daoud.
Question: Where did you find your freedom?
Reda Kateb: In the points of convergence between Daoud and myself. Empathy, dynamism, endurance. And uncomplicated relations with kids from neighbourhoods I never got very far away from. I was part monitor, part-educator in the Paris suburb of Vitry-sur-Seine. I sponsor a movie festival, "Cinébanlieues." Talking to them or listening to them was not a role of composition for me. All I had to do was draw on my day-to-day experiences. Before "stumbling across" autism, as he says himself, Daoud was a rapper. He's almost a showman. When you sit in on one of his meetings with his team, they certainly get their work done, but they also laugh a lot, and you get the feeling that there is a "show" going on. It's the same thing in Morocco, where during interminable discussions with the local authorities, he moves mountains in no time at all. We are up against the wall and he finds the breech and charges through it. With him, in the end closed doors always open.
Question: Malik shakes up the monitors pretty much when he demands punctuality, commitment and respect for the French language…
Reda Kateb: When they first show up at the association, these kids lack structures and bearings. The film is a parable about the energy of these neighbourhoods. It shows that when you treat these kids with trust, while still remaining vigilant, they grow up and the road to a professional life in the future opens up to them. Daoud has a 100% success rate with kids who until then were holding up the walls in the projects. They all end up with a diploma. But Stéphane and Daoud are animated by something greater than themselves. The cause always comes first. Faith is also very important to them.
Question: Exactly. Did you speak with the directors about the issue of religion, which is just hinted at in the film?
Reda Kateb: We spoke about it as early as our first meetings. I was a little worried before I received the screenplay. I was afraid of the cliché of the sacred union of Jews and Arabs working together. What could have become a Benetton ad about peace, which is not at all my cup of tea. I think that today everything is reduced to religion. At the same time, Éric and Olivier started out on the basis of real life. Back then, they told me that they could not promise that the question would not come up. When I saw the film, I felt reassured. Religion is in there of course, but in its rightful place, a little as it should be everywhere else.
Question: Were you afraid beforehand to confront the autistic actors in the movie?
Reda Kateb: A little bit, yes, and I had to move beyond that apprehension. They're angels, but their handicap can manifest itself with elbow jabs and headbutts. There is nothing violent about the origins of all that. They do not feel their bodies, even if it is difficult to generalize, because more than 250 types of autism have been identified. In terms of code and habits, we feel lost before them. I didn't have to tame them, they had to tame me. Their caregivers work on every word, every attitude, every gesture. And nothing can ever be taken for granted. Before the shoot, I got close to a young person with African origins, a very serious case. He smiled at me while he was eating. But on the set, once he saw me he ran away. Don't purloin anything from them. Those were our orders. They have no filters, no ulterior motives. We actors sometimes do. Will people like what I'm doing? Will this role bring me others? All that stuff that interferes with our work. With them, you have to find another type of communication. During Benjamin's dance, we slipped into the auditorium without being filmed. Actors sometimes produce imitations using the truth, or vice versa, whereas autistic kids are always true.
Question: The film is also a comedy, but you didn't have that much comedy to do, or did you?
Reda Kateb: Éric and Olivier pace things like comedians, but their comedy is first and foremost human. Before the shoot, one of my neighbours came to see me for an autograph. He asked me: "why do you always look so sullen in your movies?" I told Olivier the anecdote and he said: "Come on, this take is for your neighbour''. With this film, I had the impression of playing a piano, and pressing keys I had never played before. Then again, everything is so fluid between Éric and Olivier. When one is feeling down, the other takes over. We had a four-handed director, so we always had someone wide awake across from us.
Question: What was it like meeting Vincent Cassel?
Reda Kateb: Vincent and I really met while working. I really wanted to work with him, but we started out sniffing each other like the two actor-animals we are. On set, it was a joy to see him send back the balls I sent him, with the warm heart and spontaneity that are his trademark. He accepted traveling with me on the film in another way, not in a cinematic adventure, but like me in a human adventure. He opened up to others but remained reserved too. Three takes later, we felt a true camaraderie. Once we heard the word "lights", we were on the starting blocks.
Question: In life, should we go about breaking with norms?
Reda Kateb: Absolutely. At the origin of this project is a paradox. A contradiction. It involves the Ministry of Health that on the one hand does not want to approve these organizations, but on the other hand, implicitly realises that no one else could do the work they do and that they are indispensable. In the middle of all that, there are lives: autistic kids, but also their families. For them, the deflagration is terrible, and they are the most precarious – they cannot keep their children, they need that breath of fresh air, like always, they are the ones who suffer most.
Question: You talk a lot about ethics regarding your artistic choices…
Reda Kateb: I would never accept a role I didn't agree with. Today I would very much like to attend the inauguration of the Oujda centre and screen The Extraordinary in an open-air theatre. No film could transport me more and farther than this one: that is to say to the heart of France that is both utopian and real, the France in which I want to live.
Question: When and how did you create your two associations, "Le Silence des justes", and "Le Relais IDF"?
Stephane Benhamou: I discovered autism in 1992, when I took in a teenager who suffered from it at the summer camp I directed. I created "Le Silence des Justes" four years later. Autism was recognized as a public health problem in April of 1995, but there were no structures for dealing with it. So, the delay was considerable, and it still is. At first, we opened an ordinary facility, and then we specialized. We obtained our first authorization in 2007. But the association was truly given a "boost" in 2010 when a magistrate entrusted us with a first autistic case. That is how the first round-the-clock medicalized emergency structure was born. Today, 59 "residents" live in our apartments.
Daoud Tatou: "Le Relais IDF" was created in 2000. As of that date, the association has taken care of the complex cases we give precedence to on the weekends. Stéphane and I then extended our presence to weekdays too. I have been working with Stéphane since 1996, when I ran into him at the Théâtre Le Lucernaire in Paris where I was putting on plays with autistic young people. A friend asked me to organize some workshops. My career has been different from Stéphane's. I was an education monitor, and then I worked with Howard Buten – an American psychologist who specializes in autism, a writer and a clown. We soon began to run the experiment together on complex cases at Stéphane's summer camp. Because I came from an underprivileged neighbourhood, I had the idea of putting young people from the same neighbourhoods to work taking care of people affected by the disease.
Question: What has kept you going all these years?
Stephane Benhamou: The first autistic case I met was a teenager unable to communicate. I wanted to understand why. I opened my summer camp to him.
Question: When he left, he asked if he could come again. All Daoud and I did was answer the requests that came rolling in.
Daoud Tatou: I was 17 when I "stumbled across" autism. I am now 45. I didn't understand the violence of autistic people. How could they suddenly rear up and smash everything without any warning? I searched, and I'm still searching for an answer.
Question: Listening to you, it sounds like everything was built up as you met people and received requests?
Daoud Tatou: Nothing was planned. At the start, we grew without a blueprint. Then I set up "Le Relais IDF", with insurance and with social security approval, and I began to provide formation, to sort of recompense the kids who were helping us out.
Stephane Benhamou: The autistic community made us what we are today. We filled in the gaps, we slipped through the interstices into the system to make up for the deficiencies of the political powers that provide us with too few means.
Question: You received a favourable report from the IGAS (General Inspection of Social Affairs), but you still have to haggle in an Ubuesque situation…
Stephane Benhamou: We actually got two favourable reports from the IGAS.
Daoud Tatou: The ARS (Regional Health Agencies) entrusts us with complex cases. But it's expensive. And the regions can no longer pay. Suddenly everyone is pulling in different directions to cover themselves. They send us the police of the police which is to say the IGAS, and they spend a month going over the association with a fine-tooth comb. We finally won. We can receive autistic cases and train our youngsters. They recognized that we fill a gap.
Stephane Benhamou: But we receive no supplementary funds, space or certifications.
Question: The film shows how institutions select their autistic cases. Do you choose those you take in?
Stephane Benhamou: Once the obligatory observation period has passed - because that does exist – some institutions do in fact refuse certain profiles on the pretext that they do not fit in with them. We accept everyone, once an ASD (Autism spectrum disorder) diagnosis has been made.
Daoud Tatou: Those autism spectrum disorders cover a very broad field: co-morbidities, epilepsy, violence…
Stephane Benhamou: We and our teams then examine the feasibility of treatment and we go to work. We never turn anyone away.
Daoud Tatou: When someone knocks at our door, we open it. But the politicians implore us: "Leave your door closed, you already have a full house." Selection is a very real phenomenon. Directors of the structures receive a global budgetary envelope for the year with a ratio of one educator for 3 cases, one educator for 6, but when we are dealing with complex cases, we need one caregiver per patient. In France, we are short 37,000 places. That means 37,000 children are out in the cold. An institution will take the case that sleeps all day, knocked out by doses that would kill a horse: he won't bother a fly. It will reject the case that is agitated and violent and needs constant supervision.
Stephane Benhamou: From 2000 to 2010, Daoud and I discovered apocalyptic situations hidden away in psychiatric hospitals. You could go up to a room whose walls were covered in excrement. The autistic patient who is there is quite simply in an inappropriate structure.
Daoud Tatou: Together, we have the dynamism and strength needed to organize off the cuff: classes, field trips, etc…for those complex cases.
Question: How effective are the socializing activities you have set up?
Stephane Benhamou: We have observed that 80% of our cases improve with socialization.
Daoud Tatou: It depends primarily on empathy. There too, we have 80% success. "I accept you, with all your issues. So you want to go out into the street naked? No problem. You'll do it 199 times, but the 200th time, you'll keep your pants on and we will have achieved something". It then depends on education: we need to explain to folks that these people have the right to be with others, just like anyone else. Living the life of a recluse is not living at all.
Stephane Benhamou: The autistic common denominator is the inability to communicate, which cuts them off from our way of functioning. And therefore, from the world, if they are not accompanied.
Question: What needs to be changed?
Stephane Benhamou: We need lots of finance. When you're talking accompaniment and formation, you're talking big bucks.
Daoud Tatou: And those who make the laws need to listen to the people who relate their experiences in the field. You might then create the necessary framework for the atypical structures we have set up.
Stephane Benhamou: There is a blatant gap, once a diagnosis has been made: a child diagnosed at the age of 3 should receive immediate care from a specialized unit. The child cannot wait three or four years to be placed in an institution. First, because the child is suffering, and also because during that time their condition will deteriorate, tripling the cost on society. We also lack partnerships in the children's sector, i.e., setting up a network of health and medico-educational facilities. We need to train school aids to deal with autism.
Daoud Tatou: What Stéphane is saying is crucial. Teachers, professors, and schoolteachers have not been formed. We know that well, those of us who regularly fight to keep some of our children in school. What usually happens? The case goes up to the chief education officer who decrees: "Put him in an IME" (A MedicoEducational Institution). Whereas all it would take for the child to continue in school would be to be accompanied.
Stephane Benhamou: We have to stop lying to the world of tomorrow. If in class, the children frequent other handicapped children, when those children later become business leaders, they will not have any trouble including autistic adults in their small and medium-sized businesses. They won't have to ask: "What the hell is autism?"
Question: When did Éric Toledano and Olivier Nakache arrive at your sides?
Stephane Benhamou: Twenty years ago. The first time we met is when they filmed their six-minute video clip for "Le Silence des justes". They became very emotional. And they've never abandoned the association since. Even after they became famous with The Intouchables, they came back to see us. They followed us and helped us in all the many situations we went through.
Daoud Tatou: We were involved in it. We were overwhelmed by the film. We said to ourselves: we were able to do all that – a half drop of water in the ocean we have to fill – but we still have just as many problems
Stephane Benhamou: I also thought of the families. Éric and Olivier finally lift the veil on the treatment of autistic people. 37,000 families still live a nightmare in the dark, second after second, 24 hours a day. When the diagnosis comes in, there is no more family or life. The families are left in angst-ridden isolation.
Daoud Tatou: Worse yet. Certain aging parents have told us: "I am going to kill myself and take him with me. I don't want him to end up in a psychiatric hospital after my death. I fought all my life to keep him out of there." First, it's the couple that breaks down. Then the siblings. The parents – and it's understandable – will often concentrate all their efforts on the autistic child, often to the detriment of the others, who feel neglected. But it also impacts family finances: unless the child is cared for, many parents have to stop working and find themselves in a fine mess.
Question: The film also focuses very closely on the monitors…
Daoud Tatou: That is also very realistic. We were able to set up a structure with the monitors being made up of neighbourhood teenagers. At first, they didn't want to clean up human excrement or get punched in the face. We insisted on creating a formula and imagined something that could last. If we were able to make our municipal politicians sensitive to the handicapped, it might also encourage inserting young people into the sector of care giving, in old people's homes, for example. That is to say, doing thankless jobs no one wants to do. The neighbourhood recruiting grounds are waiting for something like that. We even had young people hired at the AP-HP, the psychiatric hospitals of the Île-de-France. We did not come with the help of the law. It was all done empirically, with humour and humanity. We have to conserve that vitality and empathy.
Question: Did you immediately accept the idea of the film?
Stephane Benhamou: We agreed once our psychiatrists validated the scenario. Unlike what you may sometimes hear here and there, we are responsible people. Everything was very transparent. And we did not change anything about the way we operate. We did not adapt ourselves to the film, the film adapted to us.
Daoud Tatou: But it is the first feature film with real autistic people and real caregivers.
Question: You had to accept the presence of two actors: Vincent Cassel and Reda Kateb?
Stephane Benhamou: At our first meeting, I could tell that Vincent was interested: he asked a lot of questions. And he approached the children. I didn't feel like I was dealing with an actor. He was 'caught up'. But I did not adapt my work to his schedule. He adapted his to mine.
Daoud Tatou: It was the same with Reda. A real human being, and, especially, very sensitive. I suggested that he accompany me to Morocco – I am in charge of an NGO that works with autism – telling him: "If you want to understand, come eat stones with me." Neither Vincent nor Reda ever acted like stars. We spoke to them like Stéphane and I speak to the CEOs we occasionally meet: "You have money, we have autistic people. What can we come up with together?" What we look at are the technicalities. Who can bring what to our combat?
Stephane Benhamou: That's true, but when I see Reda Kateb, I see Daoud.
Daoud Tatou: And when I see Vincent Cassel, I see him mimicking Stéphane.
Question: What are you expecting from this film?
Stephane Benhamou: That it casts light on our complex cases, even if things are beginning to move and the administration is waking up. Today we see the prospect of more appropriate treatment. I told Éric and Olivier: "I hope that there will be a before and after THE EXTRAORDINARY"
Daoud Tatou: And that it may touch the politicians. We would like the film to raise the awareness of all deciders, and even of the President of the French Republic.
Release Date: March, 2020