Release date: 25th October 2012
Director: Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano
Cast: Francois Cluzet, Omar Sy, Audrey Fleurot, Clotilde Mollet
Upon its initial release in France back in November of 2011 ‘The Intouchables’ took no less than two months to become the most-watched film of the year, leading it to eventually be crowned the third most watched foreign film ever. By March of this year it became the highest grossing film in a language other than English, breaking the previous record held by the Japanese animation ‘Spirited Away’. With such success already in-built to its release you’d almost imagine ‘The Intouchables’ would disappoint many a viewer as expectations are no doubt astronomically high, something that can kill a movie when released. So had the French gotten it wrong? Was this a film that only they would appreciate?
The short answer is no.
‘The Intouchables’ is indeed that special kind of film that comes along every now and then that truly speaks to you, and here all it wants to convey is how glorious and rousing friendships, and the human spirit in general, can be. The film doesn’t waste any time in cementing the relationships of its lead characters, Phillipe (Francois Cluzet) and Driss (Omar Sy), having it open on the two of them already in an established bond and then backtracking to how they met. Driss, a young man with a Sengalese background and a criminal record, shows up to a job interview for the sole intention of getting a signature to say he attended and rejected in order to claim welfare benefits. The job he has no interest in is for the live-in carer of quadriplegic millionaire Phillipe who decides to take a chance on Driss and gives him a one-month trial period for the job. The reasoning behind Driss’ unlikely hiring is beautifully handled as Phillipe, paralysed following a paragliding accident leaving him no feeling from his neck down, needing 24/7 care doesn’t want the pity that often comes with his situation, and so Driss’ attitude is a breath of fresh air for him after suffering through the other job candidates who all seem far too prepared and thus unnatural in their interviews.
Driss accepts the position, though never officially during the trial period, even if just to live a comfortable lifestyle in Phillipe’s mansion. The idea that Driss has a luxurious bathtub all to himself seems to make it all worthwhile after living in a cramped apartment in the ghetto suburbs with his extended family. The relationship between Phillipe and Driss quickly blossoms, as does Driss’ interest in Phillipe’s assistant Magalie (Audrey Fleurot) (which provides some of the film’s most amusing moments), and over the course of their time together Phillipe and Driss help each other enter their own respective worlds resulting in some of the more joyous instants seen on screen this year; Driss learning the fine art of painting, Phillipe appreciating the more illegal of substances, and each of them introducing each other to their vast differences in musical taste. As to be expected Phillipe’s friends are less than impressed with his new choice of employee but the physical strength of Driss, his intolerance to those who lack respect, and the simple fact he doesn’t treat Phillipe like he’s handicapped outweigh whatever issues his circle of friends may have.
As outstanding as a film can be on its story alone, it needs to have performances to support it and here Cluzet and Sy are outstanding, equally carrying the film with their own unique turns. Sy, with his infectious smile and charisma, is perhaps the most endearing talent to grace the screen this year with Cluzet perfect as the straight-man who himself isn’t completely void of a sense of humour. The two are simply gorgeous together and, no doubt, their chemistry is what elevates the film above whatever conventions it may project. There has been some criticism towards the film regarding the real-life counterparts as the true friendship it is based on the carer is Arab, and why that wasn’t depicted has raised accounts of racism, as well as the ‘sugar-coating’ of Phillipe as a handicapped being. And whilst it is easy to attack those particular issues with the film, if the people it is based on have no issues with how their story was told, neither should we. And as for the ‘sugar-coating’ comment, the way the handicapped lifestyle of Phillipe is approached is never over-done or exaggerated; I’d even say the slight way in which Driss playfully teases Phillipe is closer to reality without ever over-stepping the line into cruelty.
Ultimately what shines through is the strength of the human spirit and as much as someone can be wealthy, it’s the richness of the heart and mind that proves truly priceless.
My rating 4.5/5 (In touch and untouchable)