By Rachel Campbell-Johnston, Chief Art Critic for The Times.
It must be particularly hard to make a piece of documentary work like this. Nothing dramatic happens, there are no scandalous revelations. There is no climactic moment or, even, the promise of an ending to structure it. And, on top of that, the main protagonist – Jean Vanier – shies away from taking a star role.
He becomes almost a bit-part player in the story of his own life. This fact alone speaks volumes. What we are seeing is the drama of profound humility – and that’s a rare and precious thing in our celebrity-obsessed world.
The film feels in no way dutiful or worthy. It isn’t hammering a campaigning message home. Resisting the temptation to stress painful back-stories, to present subjects as victims or elicit patronising sympathy, it simply allows the people whom it focuses upon to speak for themselves. It gives them a voice. The marginalised are given the dignity which is too often snatched from them. I found that very moving. And I thought it particularly important, too, that the part which support workers play also came into it: not just their gentleness and laugher but their occasional impatience or appearance of boredom. You don’t have to be some kind of saint to live with people with learning difficulties. You just have to be human. It’s simple: but it’s also revelatory.
It matters that the film has high production values. Those less able than us are not just so easily, but often so wilfully, overlooked. They can feel unapproachable, even scary because we are not used to seeing them. We have swept them aside, hidden them behind the walls or packed them into the minibuses of the specialist organisations that are supposed to care for them. But this film requests that we take a good look. It neither focuses upon, nor shies away from, the facts of physical or mental disability. It asks us simply and frankly – and occasionally very tenderly – to accept those less abled than us as fellow human beings. I have never seen a film of this calibre do something like that before. It is extremely important. Even those who start out by flinching, will end up feeling love. And what more can you ask?