One Bike. Two Brothers. A Thousand and Three Hundred Kilometers.
Riding a bike must be one of the simplest things in the world, but the hodgepodge of emotions it brings can be overwhelming. As the sole of one’s foot pushes against the pedal, the left, and then the right, one feels free, exhilarated, scared, happy, and everything in between, all at once.
Spanish director Juan Rayos’ documentary film, True Smile (La Sonrisa Verdadera) tells a story of two brothers on a tandem bike. From their home in Cuenca, in central Spain, Sergio Aznárez Rosado and his brother Juan Manuel Aznárez Rosado crossed great mountains and deserts to get to their friend Mati in Morocco.
However, this is no ordinary journey. Sergio has been blind all his life. Not only is he blind, but he is also diagnosed with Autism.
If you tell a child with Autism to “hit the road”, he would probably tap, stomp, punch at the very pavement his feet are touching on and the extra miles after that. Now imagine hitting the road a thousand kilometres along with your blind brother who has autism. It would be long, tiring and dragging, you would think. Apparently, as what was depicted in the documentary, it was long and tiring – but it was far from a drag.
Life has always been a little different for Sergio. His eyes were surgically removed right after birth, and symptoms of autism started to surface at age 3. People with Autism are usually stimulated by images. The ironic thing is, Sergio has no sense of sight. They had to teach him life through a different means. This is where the family found out about Sergio’s incredible gift for music. Since he was having a hard time expressing himself, music became his means of communicating to the world, of showing love, and he became excellent at it.
Autism is like having to see life from a different angle, a different window. But what is Autism really? Autism is a spectrum disorder. It is characterized by disturbances in three core areas: 1. Social interaction problems; 2. Communication difficulties; and 3. Tendencies to engage in repetitive behaviours.
Since autism is a spectrum, cases vary from person to person. It can be from a child who does not stop talking about her new Barbie doll over and over to a child who locks himself up in a room, isolated from people. They are not cognitively impaired. It’s just that their brain works differently from ours. If you compare it to computers, if we use Windows as our Operating System, they use Linux. Some people with autism are prodigious in areas such as Mathematics, the Arts, and Memory.
While the cause of autism is still up for debate, there is no known cure for autism yet. A person has the disorder for life. What we can do is improve their quality of life. They need occupational therapists, speech pathologists, special education teachers… the list of professionals goes on. But above all, they need their family. Sergio is very fortunate to have a family that sees past through his weaknesses and invests on his strengths instead, who see him as their life purpose, who see him as their source of true smiles.
It is disheartening that some still see people like Sergio as weird or crazy. In this society wherein there is lack of awareness about what autism really is, where “autistic” is still used by some as a form of derogation and ridicule, this film is a real eye-opener. It sends out a powerful message about self-improvement and the inclusion of Persons With Disabilities in our society.
They are just like us. They have a lot to contribute. What we can do, they can too. We do not isolate them; instead, we make them feel that they are part of something, that they matter, and that we need their help as much as they need ours.
This documentary deserves its credit for its rawness. Through the random moments captured in Sergio’s life, the audience is taken into the wonderful little world of this young man. These raw clips make any viewer understand who Sergio is and what he goes through. We see how big Sergio’s heart is, how determined he is to push himself. He did not complain about the scorching heat of the sun, nor his tired muscles. He does what he thinks is right, and does his best to make people around him proud – oftentimes, without even trying.
For Sergio, it has always been about getting to Mati. This goal was his source of reason for the expedition. But what’s beautiful about this film is that it was never about reaching Morocco, or achieving a world record, or trendsetting. It was always about Sergio. About how, despite his disabilities, Sergio can do exactly what the rest of the world can do – and in some cases, is even better at it.
Sergio might not have seen the beauty of the setting sun in Morocco, but he certainly felt it. In the million times that Sergio’s bike wheels spun a full cycle to get to his friend, he felt free, exhilarated, scared, happy, and everything in-between. All these things, and being with his brother, made him smile.