“Tutti in piedi”, an unusual story about love and disability

A few days ago, in the Italian cinemas, came out “Tutti in piedi” (“All stand“), a French comedy that unusually approaches a topic that movies have confronted with many times, mainly in these latest years: love and disability.

What’s unusual in “Tutti in piedi”? First of all, that, somewhat,  the tables turn. Jocelyn, the male character, is the typical irredimeable lady-killer, who tries to win every woman he bumps into over. It’s exactly this “predator” instinct that leads him to meet Florence, a charming woman living a very active life, as a refined musician and a tennis champ, who, due to a motoric disability, uses a wheelchair. He immediately falls in love with her and, due to a series of misunderstandings (Florence’ sister, who lives next Jocelyn’s dead mother, having found him sitting on his mother’s wheelchair, thinks he has a motoric disability as well) ends up feeling forced to keep on with his facade, being afraid that Florence wouldn’t accept him anymore, should he show her the way he really is.

"Tutti in piedi"

A frame from “Tutti in piedi”

That precisely represents, in many ways, a “new” element in the narration of the “standard” dynamics among disabled and non-disabled people: it isn’t Florence who feels to be “unqualified” due to her own condition, but Jocelyn, who’s afraid she wouldn’t like him anymore, should she get to know the truth about him.

The director of “Tutti in piedi”, Franc Dubosc, who also plays the role of Jocelyn, said that the idea to make a movie about disability rose from his mother’s experience, who, in her old age, ended up being unable to walk anymore and having to face the numerous architectonical barriers  that, until that time, neither she or her relatives had particularly noticed. From that experience, for the director, arose a new awareness and a growing curiosity towards the daily life of people with a disability, including their relationships with others. While making the movie, he realized that, as time passed by, his fear to hurt the disabled people feelings disappeared, as he kept on shooting. So, he came to the conclusion that, ultimately, you don’t need to pay particular attention while interacting (even for romantic purposes) with a disabled person: you just have to remember that you have a person in front of you, not a disease or a tricky condition.

“The shape of water”: a fable about diversities

Should you still be among the (few) people who haven’t watched it, I hope to convince you to immediately go to the cinema! Since “The shape of water“, the movie by Guillermo del Toro that won the Golden Lion at Venice International Film Festival in 2017 and four Oscar awards just a few months ago, tells a story that you’ll hardly forget, since it  wrings the  deepest heartstrings of everyone.

“The shape of water” is a modern fable set in Baltimore at the beginning of the Sixties, during the Cold War among the USA and the URSS. Its main characters represent various diversities: Eliza, an orphan young woman who is speechless after her vocal cords had been cut off when she was a child; Zelda, an Afro-American woman who works with Eliza as a cleaner; Giles, the old homosexual advertising illustrator living with Eliza, who is subjected to discrimination at work. Plus, of course, him: the Deus Brânquia, the “shape” the title of the movie (and of the novel that’s the other part of this project), who is worshipped as a god by the Amazonian people and has been captured and taken in chains at the State laboratory Eliza and Zelda work at, to examinate and use him against Russia. Marginalized human beings who, inevitably, meet and end up making an close and odd group.

The shape of water - Eliza and the Deus Brânquia

Eliza, who succeeded establishing a relationship based on silent empathy with the creature, decides to do her best to save it from an apparently sealed destiny and, helped by Giles, Zelda and one of the laboratory scientists (who is actually a Russian spy in disguise), rescues it and takes it in her flat. Here, they end up falling in love, but, before the happy ending, they’ll have to overtake several obstacles, in a crescendo of suspense and thrill.

The end of “The shape of water” (which I won’t unveil to you) is definitely a fable, as much as the tone of the whole movie. Nevertheless,  with its sensitivity and poetry, it launches a very important message, in its simplicity: beyond our differences, we all are equal and deserve to be treated (and loved) with respect and humanity.

“Forrest Gump”: the revenge of diversity

Let’s go on with our virtual tour in the way mass media talk about disability and, generally speaking, diversity with a 1994 movie which, now, is part of common parlance: “Forrest Gump” by Robert Zemeckis, starring a great Tom Hanks playing, precisely, Forrest, a man who, in his adult age, sitting on a bench at the bus stop, tells the people who get there the story of his life.

The beginning of the tale could seem the “same old story” about a disabled child in the USA during ‘40s: the little Forrest life was marked by his illness and physical and cognitive disability, who made him an easy target for bullies. The child constantly finds the strength to react, also thanks the support from his mother and Jenny, the only peer who seems to consider him worthy of her friendship. She, to escape the umpteenth assault by bullies, helps Forrest Gump discovering a capability that, despite his physical disability, will change his life: he’s great at running! Exploiting this talent, he will be admitted to the football team and, soon, he becomes its star. Thanks to his sport merits, he is admitted to the college and graduates, before joining the army and go fighting in Vietnam. Injured while he was rescuing two fellow soldiers of his, arrives at the military hospital, where he learns to play table tennis and- needless to say- he stands out also in this sport.

“Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get”

“Poor Forrest”, who always used to be derided and harassed by bullies when he was a child, has become, in his own way, a successful man, who even gets to personally meet the US President, who awards him with an honour. But there’s even more: by chance circumstances, he becomes a millionaire. There would be a dream to achieve left: his love for Jenny, who, meanwhile, has had a tricky life.  She, being afraid of ruining his life, has sex with him, but then goes away. Then, Forrest rediscovers his passion for running and starts doing it without a defined destination, attracts followers who start running with him thinking he’s doing it for a noble cause, so three years pass. Then, suddenly, Forrest stops: he’s tired and wants to come back home. He meets again Jenny, who, meanwhile, gave birth to Forrest’ son and, at last, they get married, even though their happiness isn’t meant to last long: got sick, Jenny dies and Forrest takes care of raising their very smart son up.

Forrest Gump

“Forrest Gump” is a poetical movie, which succeeds narrating with levity a story that could easily slip into pitiful tones, without that, always at hand, that little detail which manages to get a smile out and lightens the mood. But, above all, it’s a movie with a very clear moral: nobody’s a sealed fate, if he succeeds finding inside himself (and in those near him) the strength (and the possibility) to overcome his own difficulties

“Axioma”: un cortometraggio sulla disabilità

An axiom is a “self-evident” principle which, therefore, doesn’t need to be demonstrated. This concept is recalled by the word “Axioma, the title of the short film devoted to narrating disability and its practical and psychological effects on who lives this condition. The movie is produced by Village For All, which has been committed for years to ensure everyone the most suitable holiday, as its mission states.

Logo Axioma

In this case, the axiom is the story of the “Axioma” main character and of his life “before” and “after” the accident that deprived him from the ability to walk. The movie narrates his life, his feeling, first, a dead weight for his family and for the community, to the point that he decides to “imprison himself” before gradually getting to be aware that, despite the appearance, not everything was lost and he, just like any other individual, has the possibility to “reborn”.

Axioma” starts from the assumption that disability doesn’t concern only a few “unlucky people”, but, somewhat, it touches anyone, contrary to what our culture usually tends to make us think. The movie doesn’t want to give a voice just to “disabled people in the strict sense”, that is who has a physical or psychical disability, but also to those who are outcast, victims of violence or bullying. The goal, as the commercial that launches the project claims, is to “break the prejudice barrier and enclose in a room without windows and doors the useless politically correct, to replace it with consistency between thinking and action”, aiming, on the contrary, to reach equality through love and friendship, in a journey that can be bearable for any individual.

But, you know, making a movie, promote and distribute it in cinemas (even though we’re talking about a short film), has a cost. For this reason, Village For All has launched a crowdfunding campaign, which will close at the beginning of March: to support the making of the short film, you can donate even one euro. But, obviously, donating more isn’t forbidden!

Let’s participate!

 

“The miracle worker”: Helen Keller’ story

Let’s go ahead reviewing the works which dealt with disability talking about “The miracle worker”,  that has also inspired plays ‘til nowadays, as well as a 1981 anime and, as you probably remember if you were children in the ‘80s, it was mentioned in the Japanese manga “Garasu no kamen”, with its main character, a young aspiring actress, who has to play exactly this story.

"The Miracle Worker"

Award-winning (two Oscar awards in 1963, for Anne Bancroft as the main character and Patty Duke, who played Anne, plus many other awards), “The miracle worker” tells the real story of Helen Keller, a woman who lived in the USA between the end of the Nineteenth Century and the ‘60s of the Twentieth Century and became deafblind when she was 2 years old, probably due to meningitis. Helen, who previously was spoiled and pleased in all things by her parents, starts making headway and conquering her own autonomy when she’s entrusted to Anne Sullivan, a young partially-sighted teacher who, mixing patience, dedication and authority, teaches the child that, despite her condition, she can learn speaking, reading, studying and have an autonomous life as well. The most famous scene of the movie is that where Helen pronounces the word “water” after Anne has made it pour on her hands, repeating the letters the word is made up of:

"The Miracle Worker" - Helen Keller on her graduation day

Helen Keller on her graduation day

The movie ends here, but Helen Keller’ story goes on. She, under Anne’ guidance, gradually makes headway, to the extent that learns several foreign languages and, at 24, becomes the first deafblind to graduate in a college.  She will spend the rest of her long life personally being committed to disabled people and workmen rights, as a lawyer, and, then, as a member of the American Socialist Party, visiting many countries, for instance Japan, from where- another record of hers- she will import in the USA two “Akita Inu” dogs. Her commitment was also awarded with the highest honour in the USA, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The movie “The miracle worker” is very similar to Helen Keller’ real life and, thanks to its powerful scenes, an intentionally claustrophobic setting and the usage of black and white, portrays the drama and, meanwhile, the “miracle” (precisely) of  Helen’ learning and discovering the world around her, reminding to us that nothing is impossible in itself:  you just have to find the right way to reach your goal.

“The elephant man”: disability in Victorian London

Let’s go on reviewing movies that talk about diversity and, particularly, disability, with a classic filmed in 1980 by one of my favourite directors ever: the magnificent “The elephant man” by David Lynch,  inspired to the true story of Joseph Merrick (renamed John), a men suffering from the very rare Proteus syndrome,  which had severely altered his face and body. In the movie as in his real life, Merrick is discovered by chance by a famous doctor during a show, where he was exposed as a freak, exploiting his “monstrosity” to enrich his cruel exploiter. The doctor takes the man with him and, gradually, helps him to include himself into the community, giving him back the human dignity that, ‘til that moment, had been neglected and allowing people discover, beyond the “monster”, a sensitive and cultured man.

"The Elephant Man"

Of course, his story rapidly spreads all over London, even lighting on to Queen Victoria’s ears. She, moved by the story, sets up a trust, to fund his medical cares. Is everything fine, then? Forget it! John’s jailor succeeds finding and kidnapping him, getting back to exploiting him in his freaks circus. But the other freaks help him escaping and getting back to London. Here we see the most moving scene in the whole movie:  at the railways station, Merrick, while running to escape from the vexations by a group of kids, accidentally hits a baby girl and, for that reason, risks to get lynched by the crowd. But the man, to stop them, screams out: “I’m not an elephant! I’m not an animal! I’m a human being!”. Finally safe, again with the doctor who had already helped him, Merrick lives another “moment of glory”, attending a performance during which he is honoured with an ovation. Got back to the hospital the man dies, at last in peace and with his heart heated by the awareness of having had, during his life, at least a friend: the doctor.

The elephant man” isn’t a mushy tale indulging with pietism. Quite the contrary! David Lynch, with his dry and essential style, lets us understand how, going beyond the appearance of physical traits, we can catch the real essence of people, including “monsters” like Merrick. Evil doesn’t lie in who is “different”, but in the community, that, not knowing how to include him, marginalizes him for fear.

“La classe degli asini”: a TV movie about inclusion

I’m not that keen on TV movies and similar stuff, but, when, last night, I tuned my TV in RaiUno to watch “La classe degli asini” (“The classroom of the dunces”), I was pleasantly surprised. For those who missed it, this TV movie tells the story of a fundamental figure in the process of school inclusion for students with disabilities: Mirella Antonione Casale, a teacher and mother of a little girls who was made severely disabled by viral encephalitis. Thanks to the efforts of this brave woman and other colleagues of hers, in the second half of ‘70s, Italy finally overcome (at least, in theory) the infamous “special” or “different” classrooms.

Established by the Gentile reform with the goal to ensure education to students with handicap, those classrooms often ended to become real “ghettos”, where were literally parked also children without any handicap, maybe just because they lived social unrest or due to their “lively” temper. It’s what happens in “La classe degli asini”, where Riccardo, a southern kid with a crippled family, ends up to get enclosed in a sort of “horror boarding school” (where children suffer every kind of violence, both physical and psychological) simply because, in Turin during the economical “boom”, he only speaks dialect and struggles to follow the rules. Mirella and her colleague Felice (who calls to mind the “Dead Poets Society”’s professor Keating) take to heart his case and not just help him leave the boarding school, but also let bring to light the abuses suffered by children there. Furthermore, once she has become the school principal and has come in contact with ANFFAS (the Families of People with Intellectual and/or Relational Disability Association), commits herself to enable children with handicap and those who were previously “refused” to receive the same education (and be treated, on the whole) as the other students. Also thanks to her contribution, in reality, in 1977, through the 517 law, “special classrooms” got suppressed (even though they still survived, de facto, for a few more years, but we’re aware that cultural barriers are hard to overcome!) and students with disability were included into “normal” classroom, supported (when needed) by special needs teachers.

"La classe degli asini" - the cast

The cast of the movie – Picture ©Fabrizio Di Giulio/ RAI Press Office

La classe degli asini” succeeds in extraordinarily dealing with a hard topic, without indulging with pietism and sensitivity, also thanks to Vanessa Incontrada (Mirella) and Flavio Insinna (Felice), but also the young (and great) Giovanni D’Aleo (Riccardo) and Aurora Giovinazzo (Flavia) performances. As Mirella states in the movie, referring to a little-great progress made by Flavia thanks to Riccardo’s help:

“You can turn a lamp on […] To turn it on, you need someone to push that button”

“Intouchables”: when friendship overcomes barriers

Is a genuine friendship between a rich quadriplegic man and a penniless caregiver living a dissolute life possible?  The answer given by “Intouchables”, a French 2011 movie inspired to a true story, is a determined yes.

"Intouchables" - poster

The story remembers, in some aspects, “Me before you”, at least at the beginning. Even here, the two main characters couldn’t be more different, at least superficially: Philippe, a noble rich man who is quadriplegic due to an accident while he was paragliding, looks for a new caregiver and, by chance, instead of a good looking one with good references, at last, the “winner” is Driss, a Senegalese man who has just got out of jail and needs to find a job to access the welfare program for himself and his family. After an “adjustment” period, they become friends, thanks to the fact that, in Driss’ eyes, Philippe isn’t just a patient he has to take care of, but, above all, someone he can talk to, have fun doing crazy things together  (for instance, the ride on a custom-built car and the lie they tell the policemen who stop them), confront each other, talking about music, etc. Driss also succeeds convincing Philippe to open his heart to feelings again, spurring him to take care of his teenage daughter, but also to give himself a chance with Éléonore, the woman Philippe has been having an epistolary relationship with since a long time, without having the guts to meet her in person.

Intouchables” has far more than the old, well-worn tale about the relationship among disabled and “able-bodied” people. Philippe and Driss, ultimately, in people’s eyes, due to different reasons, are both “untouchable”, and maybe that’s an additional reason why they can easily get in tune with each other and, in the end, reciprocally changing their lives. In conclusion, in my opinion, it’s a movie that deserves all the (many!) awards it has won: it’s worth to watch it (again)!

“Indivisible”: a movie about disability and change

It came out in cinemas just a few days ago, but “Indivisible” by Edoardo De Angelis has already become a little “sensation”, applauded both during the last Venice Film Festival and at the International Film Festival in Toronto.

"Indivisible" - poster

It is the story of Viola and Siamese twins (conjoined by a leg) from Campania who, living in a social context full of superstitions and bias that sees them, at the same time, as “saints” to worship and as “freaks”, are forced by their family to make a living working as neomelodic singers. By chance, the girls hear of a surgeon who could separate their bodies, finally enabling them to live an autonomous life.  However, their family stands strenuously opposite to their wish for independence, being afraid of losing their source of income.

“Indivisible” offers a lot of food for thought, both about the daily life of those who live this particular condition and, generally speaking, about the way disability and diversity in general are seen. The two girls miss the opportunity to express themselves as individuals, not just due to their being physically conjoined and, therefore, unable to live separately, but also because, de facto, the context they live in doesn’t fully recognize their dignity as individuals. Starting from their rambling family, Viola and Daisy are seen much more as freaks to exhibit and to make money off (to compensate for the “misfortune” occurred to their family) than individuals with rights.  That’s another reason why their family doesn’t even conceive that the “game” could end, due to a surgery which allows the girls to live autonomously and chase their own respective dreams.

"Indivisible" - the main characters

But “Indivisible” isn’t a sad movie: quite the opposite, indeed! We can define it a sort of realistic fable, where beauty and ugly, dream and horror mix up and blend. A movie that contains a simple, but profound, moral: freedom to live your own life as you like it, regardless of your own condition, is the most important point.

“Dance me to my song”: a movie about disability, autonomy, feelings

"Dance me to my song"Today, I’ll talk about an Australian 1998 movie that I found out about thanks to Lorella Ronconi, during our chat, some time ago. “Dance me to my song” was directed by Rolf de Heer, a director who, through his movies, gives often a voice to those who doesn’t have it. The movie tells a fictional story, but with many details in common with the real life of Heather Rose, a woman with a very severe disability, died when she was only 36, who wrote the script and interpreted the main character, Julia, a woman suffering from cerebral palsy who uses a speech synthesizer to communicate with the rest of the world. She is included into a project which promotes the autonomy of disabled people. So, she leaves the treatment centre she was hospitalized in and goes to live in a flat all for herself, helped by an assistant, Madelaine, who constantly humiliates and uses violence on her, both psychological and physical. But Julia’s life hasn’t just shadows. Counterbalancing Madelaine, there’s Rix, another professional assistant who, despite her not such reliable look, is able to perfectly empathize with Julia and, above all, treats her respectfully and, all in all, as an individual, rather than a patient.  But, above all, there’s Eddie, Julia’s neighbour, who gradually establishes with her a relationship which goes well beyond friendship, causing Madelaine’s grudge and cruel revenge.

“Dance me to my song” is a hard movie, with intense scenes, which leave little or nothing to imagination. It also succeeds in clearly showing how, beyond their specific handicap, people with a (even severe) disability are still, in every way, people like the others, sharing the same instincts and wishes.  And – surprisingly? – they can also look fascinating and even sexually desirable at “able-bodied” people’s eyes: the scene where Julia and Eddie make love is as much erotic as it would have been if, instead of a disabled actress,  there would have been another corresponding to the classical standards of beauty and normality. Only Madelaine’s short-sighted and influenced by stereotypes view prevents her from understanding that there’s nothing “insane” in what she’s seen, when she took them by surprise.

A must-see movie, “Dance me to my song”, that can also help reflecting on another important topic: the right of disabled people to an autonomous life, being not just “objects” to take care of, but also, and above all, owners of their own lives, under every aspect.