Film: Love struck

The French film is a charming ‘Sense of Wonder’.

‘Sense of Wonder’ (photo credit: PR)
‘Sense of Wonder’
(photo credit: PR)
Hebrew title: Niflaot Ha’hushim
Written and directed by Éric Besnard
With Virginie Efira, Benjamin Lavernhe, Laurent Bateau, Hiam Abbass
Running time: 100 minutes
n French.
Check with theaters for subtitle information.
Imagine a romance about a French version of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, who falls in love with a slightly more sensible Penny, the waitress/aspiring actress who is his neighbor on the show, and you’ll have an idea of what the engaging new movie The Sense of Wonder is about.
It’s also reminiscent of the charming novels by Graeme Simsion, The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect, about a man with autism who turns out to be the ideal husband for a free-spirited young woman.
As someone who has spent a lot of time around people with autism, I am always leery when autism is used as some kind of metaphor, particularly when a movie shows a lyrical, poetic version of the difficulties faced by people with autism.
While I wouldn’t say that The Sense of Wonder is exactly realistic, director/writer Éric Besnard has clearly done his homework, and Pierre (Benjamin Lavernhe), the eccentric hero, while movie-star handsome, exhibits a fair approximation of the quirks and difficulties of an actual person on the high-functioning end of the autistic spectrum. The end title says the movie is based on a true story, and much of the character’s personality and habits reminded me of a memoir by math and language savant Daniel Tammet, Born on a Blue Day.
The film’s story, which is set in gorgeous locations in the French countryside — tourism to Nyons will surely increase after the movie is released — is about Louise (Virginie Efira), a young widow with two children who is struggling to keep her late husband’s pear farm going and raise her two children. They live in a ramshackle but lovely farmhouse (among its other virtues, the movie is serious real-estate porn), and she is trying to get a large agency that buys the farm’s produce to pay her the money it owes her, so she can repay a bank loan. Paul (Laurent Bateau), an old friend of her husband’s who owns the neighboring farm, is only too eager to buy her out, so he can cut down most of the trees and convert the place into an ecotourism center. He also longs to start a romance with her.
Distracted, and not interested in either Paul’s financial or romantic offers, Louise is driving home and hits Pierre when he runs into the road. Dazed but not seriously hurt, he refuses her offer to take him to a hospital and instead goes to her home, which is just up the road. His manner is odd, but he seems harmless, and she lets him sleep in the living room. In the morning, he has tidied up her entire house, a declaration of love in his mind. She brings him back to his home, a bookstore whose owner has raised him.
It turns out that Pierre is a hacker who obsesses over weather and numbers. After he hacked a government website, purely to challenge himself, the authorities want to evaluate him and possibly institutionalize him. Israeli-Arab actress Hiam Abbass, who starred in the Israeli movies The Syrian Bride and Lemon Tree, plays a doctor who examines him. In spite of little encouragement from Louise, Pierre keeps going back to her and helps her with her children and the farm.
While it’s a foregone conclusion that Louise will eventually figure out that Pierre is the man she needs, if not the man she expected, watching it play out is enjoyable. Virginie Efira has bland, leading-lady good looks, so it’s a bit hard to accept her as an everywoman when she is so effortlessly chic. I would have liked to see this story with a quirkier actress playing the heroine, but Efira is definitely convincing as someone who could inspire love at first sight. Benjamin Lavernhe mixes awkwardness, attentiveness, self absorption and charm in a very appealing performance as Pierre. In one scene, after a near car accident, we see the world through Pierre’s eyes and understand how fragile he is, in a particularly brilliant bit of acting.
Everything in The Sense of Wonder may be just a little too good to be true, but it’s intelligent escapism.