The Eighth Day

on March 07, 1997 by Lael Loewenstein
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   Belgian director Jaco Van Dormael's "Toto le heros" was an edgy, magical and touchingly funny story of a man's revisionist look at his own life that worked on a myriad of levels. By contrast, "Le Huitieme Jour" has all the edge and density of a nerf ball. Not that it doesn't try: This story of a self-involved businessman and his life-changing chance encounter with a young man afflicted with Down's Syndrome has all the ingredients for a touching story. But Van Dormael yanks at the heartstrings where he should have strummed. And most people have already seen "Rain Man," to which "The Eighth Day" bears key similarities.
   Harry (Daniel Auteuil of "Thieves") is a top-level executive who delivers speeches on the importance of good salesmanship. He's so consumed with his job that he can't even remember to see his own daughters, and his estranged wife ("Little Indian, Big City's" Miou Miou) wants nothing to do with him. One day on the road, he nearly collides with Georges (Pascal Duquenne), who has Down's Syndrome. Harry tries to take Georges to his home, but the young man says he hasn't one. To compound matters, Georges develops a strong attachment to Harry, though Georges' insistent demeanor is anything but endearing. Harry first resists, then reciprocates, and the two men eventually become close and tender friends. Soon it's apparent that these two men are not all that different--that Harry's "normal" world is no more logical than that of Georges and his developmentally challenged friends. Naturally, Georges helps Harry to remember the things he had forgotten: the feel of a tree trunk, the smell of the sea, and eventually the love of his children.
   With an excessively sentimental tone, "The Eighth Day" overshoots its mark. But joint Best Actor winners Auteuil and especially Duquenne, an actor of remarkable vocal dexterity, are solid. Van Dormael, who has said he wanted to film the clash of two worlds, does accomplish a few moments that are genuinely touching, but he'd have been well advised to stop there. Starring Daniel Auteuil, Pascal Duquenne and Miou Miou. Directed and written by Jaco Van Dormael. Produced by Philippe Godeau. A Gramercy release. Drama. French-language; subtitled. Not yet rated. Running time: 118 min. Won Best Actor Award. Screened at Cannes
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