Impressive Belgian film on autism
After reading a lot of praise over the past few months, I finally got the chance to watch last year's Ben X. This Belgian film tells the story of an autistic boy who uses online gaming to escape from the harsh realities of his daily life. It's in my opinion of the most impressive films to come out of my tiny little home country in many years.
Most noticeable is the visual trickery that is used throughout. The opening cinematic is extremely clever, mimicking the UI of a real MMORPG, but with the credits subtly integrated—actor names appear as gaming buddies for example. However, these gaming elements are more than just stylistic flair. Throughout the film, the game bleeds through into the real life scenes, sometimes as little pop-up windows on the side, sometimes as a full blown cut into virtual reality mirroring the real world. This is a great way to add extra layers of meaning to otherwise bland or difficult scenes I think.
Aside from the gaming aspect, the film also struck a particular chord for me: I've been aware for quite a while that I have some mild autistic traits myself that go beyond typical geekyness. A blinking LED in my peripheral vision is sometimes like a solar flare, a tapping foot in the office like a jackhammer, and depending on tiredness and stress levels, these things can become hard to impossible to block out. Especially in social interactions, it can be hard to focus on conversation and feeling when there's all these details shouting for attention.
While I'm obviously (and gladly) not anywhere close to actual autism, the portrayal of the main character's experiences and perception still resonated very strongly for me. The combination of little micro-cuts, extreme close ups and exaggerated audio cues focusing on minute details was spot on.
On the whole, the actual story and acting is definitely good enough to be convincing, though there is still the not-quite-blockbuster-quality factor. But, minor nitpicks aside, this is an impressive film that broaches a lot of difficult topics, and that you should watch without hesitation when you have the chance.
Hopefully the film will get a little more exposure this year outside of Belgium too, as it is a contender in the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.