Latest News From the Cosmos 2017
Distributed by Distributed by Icarus Films, 32 Court St., 21st Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201; 800-876-1710
Produced by Produced by Yael Fogiel and Laetitia Gonzalez
Directed by Directed by Julie Bertuccelli
DVD , color, 88 min.
Middle School - General Adult
Japan, Popular Culture, Music Trade, Singers
Date Entered: 07/30/2018
Reviewed by: Reviewed by Kimberly Poppiti, Stony Brook University, State University of New York, Stony Brook, NY
This feature-length documentary chronicles the daily life, and unique communication style, of Hèléne Nicolas (also known by her pen name, “Babouillec Sp,” in which the “Sp” stands for sans parole or non-verbal). Nicolas is a young French woman living with her parents in rural France. She has been diagnosed as autistic; and, while she is physically expressive, she displays limited abilities to speak (she makes many sounds, but few words) and write (she can spell, but does not hand write). She engages with the world around her in varying degrees of intensity and communicates most directly and effectively by using individual letter tiles to spell out words. In this unusual way, Nicolas expresses herself eloquently and, often, poetically.
Latest News From the Cosmos presents and juxtaposes footage of Nicolas in various settings, which effectively demonstrates the wide range of engagement that she displays with her surroundings. The film’s narrative is interspersed with a bit of overt discussion of Nicolas’ communication efforts and some comments about her autism, and also occasional questions posed to Nicolas or her parents, by the filmmaker. These typically arise organically from the on-screen events or conversations. Viewers will be most interested in the distance between the “first impression” of Nicolas’ communicative skill that is given by a casual observation of her, and that which is revealed by a more in-depth evaluation of her communication using the tiles. This latter reveals her prowess as an impromptu poet and astute observer of life, capable of expression that is more nuanced and complex than one would typically expect based on a casual observance of her behavior.
Another central feature of the film is the documentation of Nicolas at work on an original theatre piece she is developing, in collaboration with her parents, based on her published poetry. The filmmaker presents scenes from the play’s rehearsal and performance, along with the scenes of Nicolas at home and going about her daily routines in rural France. For example, one such scene involves Nicolas’ arrival at a stable, where, without words, she clearly expresses both delight upon arrival and a degree of trepidation about actually riding (her mother explains she was previously thrown from a horse). Other scenes feature Nicolas enjoying a day at the beach and listening to music at home; in another, she wordlessly expresses agitation while listening to her mother read a review of her work. Scenes that feature Nicolas painstakingly choosing and arranging tiles to form the words that express her feelings throughout the film are exceptionally powerful; the effort displayed and the pace at which the desired expression is achieved in these scenes underscore the effort required for Helene Nicolas to communicate using words. This is further illustrated by the short and fascinating excerpts from her play, which are presented toward the film’s conclusion.
Throughout Latest News From the Cosmos the action unfolds in a relaxed narrative fashion that is fascinating and of potential value to viewers in various fields. Nicolas and her story are unique and engaging, there is no objectionable content found in the film, and the overall message is inspirational. The film is presented in French with English subtitles and runs nearly one and a half hours, unfolding at a relatively slow pace. It is most likely to be of interest to practitioners, scholars, and advanced students in the fields of communication, special education, and language development. Those in the fields of educational theatre, poetry, and creative writing may also find the film worth viewing.
- Audience Award, 2016 Montreal Documentary Film Festival (RIDM)