Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 04, 2024 7:26 pm 
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A special bonding story

Movies and TV surrounding autism or Asperger's are popular nowadays, and here is an engaging, rather offbeat cinematic German entry in the genre. An award-winning blog followed by Mirco von Juterczenka’s bestselling novel Wir Wochenendrebellen lie behind Weekend Rebels, based on real experiences that nonetheless sometimes feel implausible, though the story winds up being rousing and sports-centered, an unusually vivid picture of the popularity of German and European football/soccer (it's amazing), and an involving exploration of what it's like to be a kid with autism, and to be the parents of one.

Jason (Cecilio Andresen, touching), who in the main action is ten, has trouble fitting in in the main stream school he insists on attending, and his tantrums and outbursts are causing too frequent disturbances. He refuses to switch to a special needs school, but to stay where he is he has to modify his behavior. He reaches an agreement with his loving Papi/Dad Mirco (Florian David Fitz) and his mom Fatime (Aylin Tezel) that he will control his behavior, provided Papi takes him around to see all 50+ of two top level football (soccer) teams of the country in action in their stadiums, so he can pick a personal favorite, prerequisite to being accepted by the other kids at the school.

How could a ten-year-old autistic boy endure traveling around Germany and Europe watching football games in large noisy crowds? He is made skittish, often disturbed merely by abrupt noises every day just walking down the hall of his school. And typical for an autistic person, he avoids physical contact, follows strict sets of rules, is disturbed by changes in routine, and avoids physical contact. Even his mother can kiss him only on the top of his head. Somehow it seems he is able to endure with his father the big noise of massive football crowds of a hundred thousand singing, chanting fans, though clearly it's a struggle for him at times, and Mirko must create a real or imaginary bubble around him.

An Asperger's kid, we learn here, survives by working within a network of elaborate self-created rules. Deviations from routine can lead to a tantrum by Jason. He can also be a pain, loudly lecturing "normie" classmates he thinks stupid, and in a lone foray into playing soccer himself, humiliating a young goalie he thinks clumsy and making him cry. In a train compartment on the way to the first big match he has a fit in front of the waiter and other passengers when his noddles and tomatoe sauce are served minimally, infinitesimally touching each other: they get kicked off the train.

But Jason is super-bright, of course, though not an idiot savant like "Rainman" whom he imitates once as a joke: he's already an expert on astronomy, black holes, and such, and minute to minute, even when he has an obnoxious spell of rudely abusing someone, the gifted Cecilio Andresen makes us impressed with Jason's passion.

Partly the reason he can do the stadium visits obviously is the special motivation of peer acceptance at the end of the process. All this is so that in finding - within the strict requirements - no silly mascot, no overly colorful uniforms or mismatched shoes, etc., etc., etc.; many, many other rules. - a personal favorite team, he can be accepted by the other kids. Partly also there is clearly the mutual satisfaction of bonding with his Papy, a food services supervisor who has a busy and intense travel schedule of his own, and who tirelessly travels with Jason, resulting in a unique sense of being "weekend rebels" together.

This winds up feeling a bit out of left field, with an Asperger's tale that becomes most memorable for its sequence of duo entries into thundering stadiums. I won't forget the little smile of pleasure on Jason's face as they come into each stadium and view the different crowds with their distinctive colors and rituals. It's obvious Jason doesn't just want to belong, but is thrilled by the massive crowds and the rousing games - even though he seems, once seated, mostly focused on how his ruleS are met, which has nothing to do with quality of play. Otherwise, the film loses sight of aspects of the family: for instance, there is a new baby, but it feels like a doll at the table, because all focus is on Jason. This film is all offbeat and odd. But there's warmth in it too. And how can a story about autism not be odd? Autistic folks are just different.

Weekend Rebels, 95 mins., was screened as part of Berlin & Bdyond in San Francisco and Berkeley, April 2024. Showtimes:
Apr. 19, 2024 at 10:00 AM – Roxie Theater, San Francisco (Invitation Only)
Apr. 19, 2024 at 12:45 PM – Roxie Theater, San Francisco (Invitation Only)

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