Dernières Nouvelles du Cosmos / Latest News from the Cosmos
A couple disclaimers before I begin. First, I have a semi-personal connection to this movie. Outsiders Films, a production company co-founded by my godmother, shares distribution rights for the French documentary Dernières Nouvelles du Cosmos in Canada.
Without this personal connection, it’s likely I never would have had the chance to see Cosmos because it’s not widely distributed. So, disclaimer number two, I’m not sure how easy it will be for you to find it. But I couldn’t not talk about this absolutely astounding true story of one brilliant woman – Babouillec.
Babouillec is the pen name for Hélène Nicolas, author of Algorithme éponyme et autres textes ("Eponymous Algorithm and Other Texts”), who lives with her parents in the French countryside. Hélène is autistic, and when she was a child her mother Véronique Truffert stopped working and committed herself to finding a way to help her daughter communicate.
Hélène struggles to connect with her present surroundings, has trouble forming words, and has limited dexterity, making it impossible for her to communicate verbally or use a pen. Growing up she was never formally educated because, for 21 years, she was seemingly unreachable.
But everything changed when Véronique experimented with a new exercise for Hélène, and created small letter cutouts they could arrange Scrabble-style. Like finding a key that had been thought forever lost, Hélène finally had a way to express herself. One letter at a time, she strung together witty and thoughtful sentences, that sparked emotions and provoked imaginations.
The documentary begins as Babouillec’s poetry, (now published), is being turned into a theatrical production. At its bare bones, the documentary is a simple introduction, stepping us into the life of one incredible woman, who is offering us the Dernières Nouvelles du Cosmos, the “Latest News from the Cosmos.”
Cosmos was an emotional rollercoaster. I didn’t walk into the theater expecting to laugh so much. I rarely cry during movies, yet my eyes welled-up over and over. But I especially never could have predicted how much the movie would test me. Twisting a belief system I didn’t even know I had internalized.
On one hand, it’s an incredible story. Hélène was unable to express a concrete sense of who she was, an incredibly cognizant and wise person, to the people around her. And now that wall has been broken down, revealing a masterful grasp on the art of words that reached into my soul and mesmerized me.
The documentary does a beautiful job of offering an experience that I can’t quite express for you in writing. It connects us to moments that humans understand in a purely emotional language, but which words are too rigid to describe. Hélène went through the first 21 years of her life without a voice. But connecting that knowledge to the person we see on screen, or perhaps the expectations that come with that knowledge of her, doesn’t effectively convey the emotional, spitfire, loving, wise person the documentary introduces us to.
We are intimately invited by the camera, almost as if by mistake, into Hélène’s life. Its movements are not smooth as much as organic, and its lingering gaze lured me into a sense of closeness. We go for hikes and stumble over roots by her side. We sit around her table and wait, with keen anticipation, for the words she slowly unfolds. We laugh at her cheeky wit and are moved by the depth of her introspects.
I fell so completely in love with her. With the way she connects to the world on her own terms, and with a depth I’ve never witnessed. The way she laughs unabashedly, shrilly, and infectiously during times that ingrained “rules” would tell most to remain quiet.
She is different. She is her own. Cosmos introduces that to its audience in a way that forced me to re-evaluate my perception of her differences. She has been limited in ways, and has definitely struggled. Part of her is off in the cosmos. But that’s part of what she brings to the world, a new perspective from a place not everyone can reach.
Hélène is a treasure trove of charisma and insight that could have remained locked up tight if she didn’t have such amazing support from her mother. She has the power to change people's ideas of what’s possible – and change the lives of so many people who also have autism, as well as the lives of people who have loved ones who are autistic. More than an introduction to a remarkable woman, Dernières Nouvelles du Cosmos is a message of hope.
To everyone out there who can’t find a way to get beyond that locked door. A little piece of news from the cosmos has arrived to tell us, don’t give up. It’s possible.