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Jul 27, 2012
08:20 AMTalk about Arts
Movie Review: The Intouchables
Leave it to my Americanized way of looking at things to go into the César Award-nominated French film Intouchables [The Intouchables] by thinking it would be yet another run-of-the-mill rich white guy helping poor black guy tale. Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano's film refuses to pander to obvious clichés, instead finding the confidence to prove Driss is simply a misunderstood young man ripped from his home without a means to know he can do better. He may not fit perfectly into Philippe's aristocratic world, but that makes him the precise infusion of honesty without pity needed to jumpstart the quadriplegic's tragic life.
Don't get me wrong—Driss (Omar Sy) is a punk. However, there is an inherent compassion cutting through the tough guy façade to shine when those in his care need him most. As the film opens, he and Philippe (François Cluzet) are in a fast car outrunning police on a bet. Speeding away with wide smiles, Driss ups the ante with a new wager after getting pulled over. Talking himself out of an arrest with help from his co-pilot's ability to create drool on cue, the two bask in the victory with a rousing drive through an opening credit sequence set to Earth, Wind & Fire's "September".
But how did this unlikely pair find each other? It all comes down to Philippe's hardened heart wanting to rid his life of the cowards too afraid to treat him like a man ever since being saddled with the wheelchair. Driss walked into the mansion estate assuming they'd see the color of his skin, decline his application, and give him the third rejection signature needed for government assistance. What he found instead was a man who appreciated his candor, the advances towards the lovely Magalie (Audrey Fleurot), and complete disregard of his obvious ailments. After a string of college grads with technical answers and impersonal motivations, Philippe found his caretaker.
From this moment on it's the Cluzet and Sy show. Full of hysterical quips, their brilliant rapport is peerless. Mixed with the comedy, however, is also a strong sense of finding oneself above the hard-to-shake images they project. Both men are hiding from themselves, pretending their new life of fun can make their troubles melt away. And while Nakache and Toledano do well to help shield us from the drama by putting us in stitches with ceaseless banter, a cast of supporting players and culture clashes bring things back into focus at precise moments for full poignancy.
At the screening I attended, Sy brought the entire theater to the point of tears with his unabashed fervor for laughter in a genuine performance that makes any attempt to recreate it impossible. But while he has the flashier role with more memorable lines, the genius would be missed if not for Cluzet's heart-wrenching turn as a man trapped by a life no longer worth living. Watching Driss pull a grin from Philippe is when this true-life story is at its best.
And with a soundtrack including Nina Simone, George Benson, and Ludovico Einaudi's gorgeous score including the amazing "Fly" & "Una Mattina", The Intouchables fires on all cylinders. (A Hollywood remake is already in the works.) It touches your soul, and proves laughter really is the best medicine.
Intouchables [The Intouchables] 10/10 | ★ ★ ★ ★
 (L-R) Anne Le as Yvonne, Francois Cluzet as Philippe and Omar Sy as Driss in THE INTOUCHABLES Photographer: Thierry Valletoux Copyright: © 2011 Gaumont - Quad
 Francois Cluzet as Philippe (center) in THE INTOUCHABLES Photographer: Thierry Valletoux Copyright: © 2011 Gaumont - Quad
 (L-R) Omar Sy as Driss and Francois Cluzet as Philippe in THE INTOUCHABLES Photographer: Thierry Valletoux Copyright: © 2011 Gaumont - Quad