Intouchables is one of those films, that, despite it’s commerciality and rather obvious style, remains heart-warming and touching. Oh, it’s a crowd-pleaser (Harvey Weinstein and his Weinstein company have already acquired the US distribution/remake rights to the film, having seen the potential) – and is now the third biggest grossing film in French history, behind Titanic and Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis. Dany Boon’s 2008 comedy also had a rather banal underlying concept – middle-class city type Philippe moves to the grim countryside and ends up growing to love it – it’s hardly ground-breaking stuff.Yet Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis was anything but hackneyed – it was laugh-out-loud comedy, compassionately entertaining.
And the same goes for Intouchables. It’s full of stereotypes – the rich white millionaire living in a swanky Parisian mansion and his new black carer from Paris’ banlieues. The wonderful François Cluzet plays the quadriplegic aristocrat, who gains a new lease of life with his time spent with his mettlesome carer – Driss (Omar Sy), who only applied for the job in order to ensure he keeps getting welfare payments – at his interview, he stole a Fabergé egg from the mansion.
Despite his interview attitude, Philippe (Cluzet) warms to Driss, and decides to employ him for a trial period of six weeks. We see both culture clashes and charming moments of understanding. Cluzet is one of my favourite actors (if you haven’t seen him in Tell No One, ignore the corny trailer and watch it, his facial expressions help to make the film) and he puts on a fine performance in Intouchables. Omar Sy is a strong presence – he’s previously acted in dozens of French movies, but Intouchables allows him to shine. Driss is rough around the edges but charming, and it’s this braggadocio combined with his docility towards Philippe that makes the film so inspiriting.
Variety hated it – complaining of reinforced stereotypes and bad jokes – they’ve suggested that the Weinstein company will need to re-write the movie to make it appealing to US audiences. I disagree. The social background is important in the film, yes – but racial background isn’t a big deal in the movie. Several reviews have commented on the scene involving Driss dancing in front of Philippe. They’ve commented on a black man, dancing in front of a white man. Yet it’s a scene about Driss’ chutzpah – how dare he dance and have so much fun through dancing – in front of a quadriplegic man? It’s not about race. Does the accusation say more about the accuser, than the accused?
It’s too early in the year to bandy around the phrase “2012′s most touching film”, but it’s a definite must-see.