Photo courtesy of VIFF 2012
Come As You Are
DIR: Geoffry Enthoven | Cinema of Our Time | Belgium | 2011 | 115 mins | Flemish, French, Dutch, English
Sun, Oct 7th 10:30am | Empire Granville 7
Tue, Oct 9nd 9:30pm | Empire Granville 7
Thu, Oct 11th 3:45pm | Empire Granville 7
Lars (Gilles de Schryver), Philip (Robrecht Vanden Thoren) and Jozef (Tom Audenaert) are three very typical young Belgian men. They hang out, annoy their siblings, and fantasize about girls. Yet two things set them apart from the rest of their peers: they all have physical disabilities, and they're all crazy for wine.
This is why, when the three propose an independent trip to wine country, their doting parents seem fine with it. Little did they know the boys were actually plotting a trip to a Spanish "special-needs" bawdy house so they could lose their virginities.
Philip stealthily books the trip by e-mail, but has to hire an accessible van and travelling nurse, sight unseen. Enter Claude (Isabelle De Hertogh), a portly curmudgeon of a woman with a rickety old bus.
The trip is still a go, but the boys' disenchantment with Claude starts to bring out the worst in everyone. Philip's positive ambition gives way to a deep-seated anger about his quadriplegia and he bombards the woman with coarse language and insults. Wheelchair-bound Lars, pained by a recent medical prognosis, joins Philip in the taunting. Nurse Claude, meanwhile, stays professional, but her own pain is visible just below the surface (which De Hertogh does a beautifully subtle job of portraying). Only blind Jozef remains outside the fray, but eventually he too gets fed up with everyone's behaviour.
What follows are a few very harrowing and painful scenes to watch, as the gentlemen realize how much assistance they really need. A few confessions and apologies later, the trip turns into an adventure more fun and freedom-filled than they'd ever hoped for. That is, until their parents track them down.
The sex-quest road trip story is nothing new, so it may surprise you that Come As You Are is based on the real-life experiences of Asta Anthony Philpot, an American who also suffers from a mobility disorder and advocates for legal brothels as a way of providing sexual opportunities for disabled persons. Likely due to its nonfiction roots, the film avoids the dirty teen movie vibe entirely, instead telling an earnest story with humour and charm.
Decent production value, profound subject matter and plenty of endearing moments would already make Come As You Are a top festival pick. But what has truly made this film (better known as Hasta La Vista) stand out to critics and audiences across the globe are the unfettered and heartfelt performances. Particularly impressive is Vanden Thoren, who emotionally dominates so many scenes, all while not moving a single limb.
Come As You Are also forces the audience to stare disability in the face. Lars, Philip and Jozef are still regular guys, but they're not the politically correct, no-differences-but-the wheelchair characters we've seen in after school specials since the 1980s. As normal as their hopes and dreams are, they face real barriers. And as much as they want to be independent, they are not, and it haunts them.
To see this film is to witness pain, but even more than that, Come As You Are is a celebration of uniqueness, friendship, and life.
JENNIFER is currently past the point of no return at UBC Graduate School of Journalism. She occasionally tries to delve into serious issues surrounding urban sustainability, but is mostly distracted by all things arts and culture.