The Intouchables (2012)
The translator at the distributor working on the film ‘Les Intouchables’ was either very drunk or simply failed to show up to work on the day because The Intouchables is simply not English. A more accurate translation would be ‘Untouchable’. But perhaps the French filmmakers decided to screw the rest of the world over and leave us all wondering how the heck to pronounce the name of their film. I wouldn’t rule that out too quickly.
Regardless of the naming fiasco, The Intouchables was a smash hit in France, where the general population were spared the debacle of having to figure how to pronounce the darn thing and could simply enjoy the slightly cheesy yet remarkably charming story. For many reasons the film should never have been a smash hit. The story is largely predictable, skirts dangerously close to racial stereotypes, no scratch that – it does racially stereotype and on top of all this, it lacks a punchy climax to pull it out of its bumbling pace. Whilst everything about this film points to it being another forgettable ‘dramedy’, its quirky nature and phenomenal performances help it crawl under your skin and lodge itself in your heart before you’ve even realised.
The film is based on true events, telling the story of a rich, aristocratic quadriplegic, Phillippe who is in search of a new full-time care-taker. Despite interviewing a host of qualified applicants, Phillippe chooses the least likely, an African immigrant named Driss, who’s merely applying for the job in order to apply for welfare. It didn’t take long for the racial stereotyping get underway with the rich, uptight white man, who is thrust together (by his own choosing) with a black, unmotivated, immigrant who appears to be more interested in drugs and women than anything else. And so begins a ‘clash of cultures’, ‘buddy film’ where ultimately both individuals are positively influenced by their counterpart, despite coming from other ends of the city. As I’ve said before, on paper, there’s nothing new to be seen but that is the magic of cinema. The simplest, most cliche’d and uninteresting premise can be given a new lease of life through one of many avenues available to a director. In this particular case, Intouchables owe’s all its charm and success – in my opinion – to the casting and performances.
Driss played by Omar Sy is without doubt the start of the film. From his somewhat bombastic entrance he wins you over with his unpolished and refreshingly honest candour. Even his offside comments to the female personnel of Philippe’s estate come across with as harmless chirping than offensive harassment.
Driss, like the film itself has a knack for getting under your skin and causing you to laugh at him as well as with him. As one might expect, Driss is taught the notions of discipline, etiquette and refinement as he’s transported from his world of poverty, unemployment and trouble with the police. Whilst Philippe offers Driss a lesson in living life respectably as well as a means of reputable income, he in return is offered the chance to live life fully, despite his obvious physical restrictions.
The Intouchables is a feel-good, light hearted and memorable film that speaks to the heart far more than the head. Though it never strives to be the poster boy for cinematic mastery, it finds itself as an unexpected masterpiece in simple, engaging and memorable storytelling.