Footnote #Autism #Movie – Autism in #Israel

 

I was initially drawn to this film as a critically acclaimed, very intelligent black comedy, which in the words of Roger Ebert:

‘is a merciless comedy, that is a study of human nature, that is deep and takes no prisoners’

It happens to be an Israeli film and was their 2011 Oscar nominated submission for Best Foreign language film.

Of all the countries to have been nominated for this Oscar category, Israel is the most under awarded: 10 nominations to date, without a single win, but enough of my cinephile trivia.

 

Way up the food chain

On the surface, the story is about 2 professors who happen to be father and son.

The protagonist father has dedicated most of his Academic career to the study of Talmud texts, cataloging and mapping the tiniest of differences – but alas without formal recognition due to an unfortunate technicality.

His son is a much lauded and prolific author of Talmud text books, who has enjoyed considerable commercial and Academic success.

In the opening few scenes, it looks like a simple story of father and son rivalry – while in fact it is used to set the scene for the real story.

 

HIgh functioning autism

There is often a very fine line between intellectual giftedness and high functioning autism – with considerable overlapping traits.

The autistic traits of the father were apparent to me right from the get go.

His singleminded quest to compile the Talmud in a form that is most faithful to the original, is the personification of the pursuit of a special interest.

A quest for knowledge for it’s own sake and as it’s own reward.

We learn that for 30 years, he walks to work (wearing sneakers and a suit) at the Israeli National Library, taking the exact same route every day, regardless of the weather.

He has an office at home, where he seems to spend all of his time, wearing bright yellow noise cancelling headphones and files everything and anything away in folders, with no apparent indexation system other than in his head.

But perhaps he’s just a quirkily genius, right?

 

The elephant in the room

While the autistic traits of the father were very obvious, at least to me, it didn’t overwhelm the unfolding story.

There is so much else going on.

We are given a glimpse of the legalistic egotism that handicaps much of the world of higher academia – delivered in the form of the mother of all ethical dilemmas, which feels like a vortex from which there is no escape.

The misdirection device is used to great effect, just before the pin prick punchline, that really shocked me.

The younger professor, perhaps in his late 40s, has an exchange with his own son, who is in his late teens.

He expresses concern and disappointment with his lack of ‘direction’ and focus.

Following this, the boys mother calmly suggests to her husband that the points he has just made with his son, would be better directed at his ‘Autistic father’, the elder professor!

I was shocked, so much so that I had to pause the film and pace around for a few minutes.

The tone of his wife gave no indication that the term autism was being used in the pop culture sense that ADHD and other terms are used.

She was clearly an intelligent woman in her own right, intellectual discourse being one of the pillars that in part defines her culture and indeed the history of her people.  So I believe she was simply stating the obvious, albeit one that may previously been unspoken!

 

Wake up call

While I was pacing and trying to compose myself, I shed a few tears.

That scene could have easily been from my own life and I was reminded how easily ‘being autistic’ can be masked in those of us working in academia, the sciences, engineering, the traditional professions, anything in fact that allows and perhaps even requires our total absorption, high level focus and attention to detail.

I was also reminded that the autistic gifts, that can be channelled with powerful effect in the intellectually gifted, can carry a very high price.

 

A glimmer of Hope and a joy to behold

Just when I thought the film was entering it’s tragic finale, the film delivers an exhilarating sequence that had me utterly mesmerised.

The elder professor picks up on a tiny phrase, not even a handful of words and we are shown the cascading, fractal thought process of the autistic mind, well my mind at least.

I would encourage any parent of a gifted child with Aspergers to see this, because you will be looking inside your child’s mind and not only be able to see what they see, but feel how they feel. 

 

I got an adrenalin rush just watching it and I am in the cascading, fractal thought A-team!

I also had a powerful feeling of catharsis – it was like I was being vindicated – reassured that I am not mad, that I am not alone and  reminded of what a remarkable gift it is to be able to make multiple connections with the tiniest of details, served up from deep within my long term memory.

A moment of Zen.

 

Epilogue

I don’t know whether the writer/Director, Joseph Cedar deliberately set out to make an autism themed film.

There was more going on than ‘just’ autism, not least a brutally honest portrayal not just of Human nature, but also of the Culture which in large part defines him.

The film goes in hard and deep and takes no prisoners and it caught me completely off guard.

I need to see it again, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight and I suspect for an even richer experience.

This is a rare film, that for me makes autism accessible to the non-autisitc population and will resonate especially powerfully with autistic people those whose intellect enables them to overcome, to some extent, the challenges of autism.

Mazeltov

 

Footnote

 

When I Saw You #Autism movie via @PhilistineFilms #WhenISawYou

 

I was unaware this 2013 Palestinian film had an autism theme – nothing I read in any reviews made any mention of it and the clips I had seen hadn’t suggested it either.

I don’t know if autism was an intentional feature of this film, but it jumped out at me right from the start of the film.

 

A Special Child

It is 1967 and 11 year old Tarek, the Protagonist, is living in a refugee camp in Jordan with his mother, just across the border with Palestine.

Tarek’s love of information and numbers is immediately apparent – but he is having problems at school.

He is very good with mental arithmetic and corrects his teacher….and is then expelled.

Tarek’s Mother explains to the teacher that he is smarter than the other children – the teacher reminds her that Tarek cannot read.

I had flashbacks to my school days, similarly gifted in math, while my English comprehension was ‘nil’ although in my case I was able to read.

Tarek also speaks his mind, unfiltered, to children, his teacher, other adults as well as his mother.

He clearly isn’t doing this to be rude or offensive, he is simply demonstrating a core trait of autism, faithfulness to the truth, with no awareness, let alone regard, for the social impact and consequences.

 

Details, always the details

Later in the film, we see Tarek at a Freedom Fighters camp.

He was on his way home (back to Palestine), in the direction of where the sun sets.

He carries a stick with him and uses its shadow as a compass and is found sleeping in the desert by one of the Freedom Fighters.

It is at the training camp that we see the full power of Tarek’s powers of observation and remarkable working memory.

In one scene, Tarek is standing next to the Camp Commander, while the trainees are doing push ups and sit ups.

There are maybe 15 trainees and when they finish Tarek casually informs the Commander that all of the men completed 100 repetitions except one – who only did 97.

I have a very good eye for detail, but the brain power necessary to keep count of 15 people at once is at the level of a Grand Chess Master! Way beyond my league and probably outside of my solar system.

We are shown more examples of this.

Later we see Tarek playing cards with those same men and winning.

He speaks his mind with the Freedom Fighters too, with not even a flicker of caution, let alone fear.

 

The Story

The other story in this wonderful film is that of the Palestinian Freedom Fighters who, like Tarek, just want to go home.

This was a very thoughtful, contemplative and well balanced film – the Camp Commander and the other main Freedom Fighter character are philosophical – they display no hatred or anger, one in particular, the one who befriends Tarek, has a gentle character and is softly spoken.

Palestine has produced some outstanding works of cinema in the last 12 years, including Oscar nominated:

  • ‘Paradise Now’ (2005)
  • ‘5 Broken Cameras (Documentary, 2011)

Palestinian film maker Elia Suleiman @SuleimanElia has made 2 Surreal films – ‘Divine Intervention’ and ‘The Time that Remains’ that I would recommend to anyone who likes to engage their intellect when watching movies.

 

Epilogue

Palestine has been high on my list for my next #WorldAutismProject post for some time.

I don’t believe in coincidences and so my next post – which will be my 100th post will be, fittingly, ‘Autism in Palestine.’

 

When I Saw You – Official trailer

 

This is an outstanding film, both as an historical representation of the 2nd wave of Palestinian refugees, but also for it’s portrayal of one little boy and his experience of ‘Autism in Palestine’

 

The Closing of the Year

If I cannot bring you comfort, then at least I bring you Hope

For nothing is more precious than the time we have – and so –

We all must learn from small misfortune, count the blessings that are real……………

Toys (1992)

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