The Eighth Day
It was only a matter of time before Hollywood's obsession with Forrest Gump, Rain Man and other idiot saints spread all over Europe. The Eighth Day, a 1996 Belgian import, shows us once again how to love life by looking at it through simple, childlike eyes. The simple, childlike eyes in this case belong to an institutionalized Down Syndrome patient (Pascal Duquenne) who happens to meet a drone-like motivational speaker who has been driven to nearly suicidal despair (Daniel Auteuil). You pretty much know where this road movie is going to take you, but the trip is a pleasant one, thanks largely to Duquenne, who has Down Syndrome in real life. His performance presents a mixture of surprisingly raw emotions and bizarrely comic visions, which director Jaco Van Dormael helps integrate into a believable and compelling character. Driven only partly by hagiographic impulses, Van Dormael's film makes an effort to portray a central handicapped character as a lovable person rather than a cute and elaborate plot device, which opens the possibility for the story to cut through the viewer's very reasonable layers of cynicism. Of course, there's a fine line between poignancy and saccharine goop, and it's not a line the film leaves uncrossed. But for every ridiculous scene or snippet of dialogue, there are at least two moments that hit home.