The Intouchables is a powerhouse film in France. It is the highest grossing film of all time for the country. When I saw the film in April as part of the Dallas International Film Festival, I believe it was currently number three at the box office in France. One of the stars, Omar Sy, had already won a Best Actor Cesar Award which is the French equivalent to an Oscar. Omar Sy is the first black man to win that award. The trailer for the film was enough to get me out to see it.
The Intouchables focuses on the relationship between Philippe (François Cluzet) and Driss (Omar Sy). Philippe is a quadriplegic who is looking for a new male nurse or caretaker to help him with day to day things. Driss is a fairly poor immigrant man who is from the French equivalent of the projects. Driss walks into the interview only looking for someone to sign off on the fact that he is actively looking for employment and can continue to receive government benefits. Philippe is also very rich. He lives in a very decadent house in the middle of Paris that is decorated like it is its own museum. For some reason, Philippe takes to Driss, seeing that he is unlike all of the other candidates even with no qualifications. Driss enters a whole new world at Philippe’s house, and Philippe takes to Driss and his surprising candor and humor.
The film opens with Driss driving Philippe around Paris in a Maseratti and pushing the speed limit. They catch the police’s attention, which leads to familiar ground. How could a black guy be driving a Maseratti with a white guy as a passenger, an immobile one at that? The film does not shy away from pointing out the major differences between these men. There is an undercurrent of impossibility that this might happen in real life. The film addresses the social and political issues at hand in a non-direct way. As Americans, we can probably identify with the general issues, but reading about the French projects and the divide that is in place brings a new understanding to the film. The bottom line is that there is more meaning to this film for the French than there is for Americans.
This is not your typical buddy comedy film. Aside from the issues already mentioned, there is the difficulty in establishing a great relationship between a caretaker and the invalid. Philippe is paralyzed from the waist down and dependant on everyone for everything. While he made an odd choice choosing Driss as a caretaker, the two quickly form a bond. It would have been nice to see what Philippe was like before Driss came along. It also would be nice to know how Philippe became paralyzed, although it is not important for the story.
Driss is the comic relief of the film and quickly gets Philippe to do some things he was not previously doing. He mouths off quite a bit. He is loud and brash. He hits on girls with no consideration for who else is around and is unrelenting. He is also quite protective of Philippe and his young spoiled daughter (after he sets her straight).
One of the things I admire about the character of Philippe is his belief in love. He is a hopeless romantic who now thinks his condition is a hindrance to the quest for a new love. The final scene of the film brought me to tears. It is the culmination of the relationship between Driss and Philippe and finding love.
A lot is being said of Omar Sy and his portrayal of Driss. He is quite perfect for the role considering his background. I also think François Cluzet deserves some recognition for playing Philippe. He basically was only able to act with his head. Body language and how an actor carries himself can be important for a performance. Without those elements, François Cluzet did a remarkable job using what he had to give a great performance.
The Intouchables is one of those rare foreign comedies that I believe everyone could enjoy, given the chance. While it may not strike that deeper meaning with the American audience, it is funny film with a lot of heart and good intentions. The fact that it is based on a true story that is touched on in the ending credits makes it a heart warmer film. If you go into the film ready to laugh, you will not be disappointed. It is the added bonus of a unique relationship that may bring you to love this film. Who needs a stupid Adam Sandler buddy comedy when you have The Intouchables?
I give The Intouchables 4 “little cucumbers” out of 5.
by Sarah Ksiazek