Parents of children with special needs often think about what the future may hold for their child. What path will they take in life? What opportunities await them? What challenges will they face? These concerns are the subject of Alphée of the Stars (2012), a film that I recently had the pleasure of viewing at the 2014 Cleveland International Film Festival. This endearing documentary was narrated and filmed by Hugo Latulippe, the father of a child with many challenges, as he strove to show the world from his daughter’s perspective.
Alphée was born with Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects physical and cognitive development. She failed to thrive as a baby and doctors told her parents that she would never walk or talk. Fast forward to age four, Alphée is energetically dancing through the streets of her native Quebec. A happy child, she is mesmerized by the world around her and giggles at passers-by. However, there are very obvious differences between herself and other children her age, even though she isn’t aware of them yet. Her nursery school classmates candidly discuss her seemingly odd behavior as she pretends to be a lioness and growls at them. She is socially distant from these children. She is also cognitively delayed, has difficulty pronouncing words, and has a noted limp when she walks. Her teachers relay to her parents that she may not be suitable for a traditional classroom when school begins in the fall.
Springing purely from what her father describes as a “parent’s intuition about their child,” her family does not accept this prescribed fate. They decide to take one year off from their lives in Quebec to try to explore Alphée’s potential and foster her growth and development. They move to a remote village in Switzerland surrounded by ancient forests, majestic snow-capped mountains, and fields filled with wild flowers. Against this inspirational backdrop, they reduce the pace of their lives to match hers. They focus all of their attention on her, spending countless hours with flashcards and on speech therapy. They also enroll her in nursery school so that she can socialize with other children her age. At first, Alphée continues to live in her own world, speaking to imaginary friends in the trees and often unable to truly connect with those outside of her family. However, progress is visible. Her enunciation begins to improve and her vocabulary grows as she is able to identify more objects in her flashcards. While other children are learning to write their names, she is able to identify objects in her coloring book and color within the lines. She begins to open up to other children at school, accepts help from another girl, and leads the class during roll-call. Her teacher says that she never would have imagined how much Alphée would have brought to the classroom. Alphée is truly a beautiful child—she is imaginative, affectionate, and full of laughter.
As the summer ends, her family returns to Quebec. They decide to move to the countryside and enroll Alphée in a traditional classroom. Her father admits that he cannot anticipate how Alphée’s life will progress—her future is uncertain. There will undoubtedly be challenges for Alphée in the years ahead, but her family focuses on small successes. Alphée of the Stars is a movie about a father’s love of his child and his refusal to accept externally imposed limitations on her abilities. It is also the story of his acceptance of Alphée’s challenges as he learns more about her. His underlying concerns and anxieties about her progress seem to lessen or even dissipate throughout their year in Switzerland. The audience is left overcome by his devotion to her and his strength to help her forge her own destiny. Alphée may never achieve the same milestones as other children, but it is clear that she has great potential and much to share with the world.
– Posted by Stephanie Ayers-Hamilton