If you fancied yourself a fan of last year's The Sessions or The Intouchables, then you may very well be ready for a remarkable little film that really weaves the two together while maintaining an artistic voice all its own. Come As You Are (Hasta La Vista) is currently in previews in The U.K. with an intended opening on June 7th, and it's a film that's so good it makes me want to swim across the pond just so I can catch it on the big screen.
Based upon an idea by noted disability activist Asta Philpot, Come As You Are centers around three friends - Jozef (Tom Audenaert) is nearly totally blind, Philip (Robrecht Vanden Thoren) is a paraplegic and Lars (Gilles De Schryver) has a degenerative terminal illness that causes paralysis and occasional fits. All three young men still live with their parents, from whom they require quite a bit in the way of daily assistance. However, when Philip gets wind of a brothel in Spain that caters to men "like them" they all decide that they must go there - alone. Okay, alone with the exception of a hired caregiver.
As a paraplegic film critic, I must confess that I struggled a wee bit in detaching myself from being fully surrendered to every aspect of this delightfully intelligent, sensitive, funny and honest film. While I've never been tempted to venture off to a brothel in Spain, I'd have likely considered such a choice as a young man if the location were, say, Ohio. It's rather obvious that the film has had considerable input from a voice with a disability, in this case the U.S. born British disabled sexuality advocate Philpot. Come As You Are gets it right - the family anxiety, the very real desires to experience sexuality, the experiences had along the road and much more all feel genuine and authentic in the film. It likely goes without saying that our three young men's families are strongly opposed to the notion of such a trip, though they reluctantly relent once a qualified caregiver is lined up. All is set until Lars' condition takes a turn for the worse. Given not much more time, Lars decides to live his remaining time full-on and, of course, this means that the trip is back on with the exception of one major problem. The highly skilled caregiver backs out of the trip, and the guys are left with Claude (Isabelle de Hertogh). Claude doesn't exactly come across as the perfect travel companion for three lusty and ready to party disabled men, a gruff and heavyset woman who speaks only French.
Inspired by Philpot's real life journey to a very real Spanish brothel along with his outspoken advocacy of prostitution as one viable option for individuals with disabilities to express their sexuality, Come As You Are on a certain level runs through the formulaic route in expressing its ideas yet it does so in a way that is refreshingly real and lacking in condescension or turning those with disabilities into the dreaded "cutesy" types.
If you were reading my reviews this past year, then you already know that I fell in love with The Sessions (and am still pissed that Hawkes didn't get an Oscar nom) while I didn't particularly care for the stylish, cutesy The Intouchables. This film has been on the film festival circuit since debuting at the 2011 Ostend Film Festival. It has picked up quite a few accolades along the way including the Audience Award at Karlovy Vary, three prizes at the Montreal World Film Festival including the top juried prize and the Audience Award, the Audience Award in the European Film Awards and several others. The film has, rather unfathomably, not been picked up for American distribution yet but I was lucky enough to score a screener in recognition of the film's British theatrical release on June 7th.
Even moreso than my beloved The Sessions, Come As You Are avoids stock characters and even when we're obviously getting the laughter intertwined with sadness and tears everything feels naturally developed rather than manipulative. The film's formula probably follows more in line with the "road trip" formula than it does any sense of the Hallmark "disease of the week" type formula. These characters are genuine and compelling, and they're brought beautifully to life by the film's ensemble cast. The film's most transcendent performance may actually come from Isabelle de Hertogh as the ex-con travel companion who slowly opens up and wins over the guys.
There's no question that for me Come As You Are is a deeper and more personal film, but I can also say that this makes me a more discerning moviegoer. While I do wish that director Geoffrey Enthoven had chosen to utilize actors with disabilities who are woefully under-utilized in Hollywood and the European film industry, the involvement of Philpot and the obvious intelligence and sensitivity of the script still make this one of the better films involving characters with disabilities to play in recent years. If you're in the U.K., watch for the film beginning on June 7th and if you're in the U.S. one can only hope we're going to get this wonderful film over here. Come As You Are is a Belgian production with Dutch, French, Spanish and English spoken at various points with subtitles as appropriate.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic