Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Movie Review: Intouchables

Intouchables (2011)
The Intouchables (USA Title, translation: The Untouchables)
Written and directed by Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache
[Based on a true story.]

Not since Amelie (2001) has a French film made such a stir internationally with both critical acclaim and major box office activity. There is such an increasing buzz surrounding this film that one might want to be careful not to be the last to see it. Fortunately the Birmingham Public Library and other libraries throughout the Jefferson County Library Cooperative make it available to you for free.

When a millionaire quadriplegic, Philippe (played by Francois Cluzet) and his staff are busy conducting interviews to select a new caretaker for him, the last thing they expect is to be interrupted by a brash Senegalese immigrant demanding a signature to keep his unemployment compensation. Notice that Driss (played by Omar Sy in his first major screen role) does not really want the job, he just wants to keep his unemployment money flowing and is happy to be free from a several month detention stemming from petty crime. He manages to systematically offend everyone in the room.

What seems to be a highly unlikely pairing turns a fast corner as Philippe becomes intrigued and offers Driss a week’s trial run at the job that neither is sure will work out. Driss feels mortified as he learns the job involves icky chores such as bathing his new boss. Philippe, while somewhat fearful, is enjoying the abrupt style of his new caretaker and finds it to be a refreshing change from all the careful, concerned pampering he has experienced during the years since his crippling accident. Somehow, several conundrums and many laughs later, it does work out and the two become friends and become quite heady from learning from each other’s dissimilar backgrounds. Paris becomes a colorful character itself, when Driss dismisses Philippe’s handicapped accessorized van in favor of the Maserati and the two sillonent sur les boulevards (zip along the boulevards).

The film is infectiously ebullient as it presents un grand monde sans frontieres (a large world without boundaries). Conflicts stemming from differences in race, social and economic class, physical ability, education, and whatever else you can think of pale and almost disappear. Even the music is a mélange of international and diverse styles including the compositions and voices of Ludivico Einaudi, Nina Simone, Earth, Wind and Fire, and George Benson. For a film that features rough disparities, it somehow manages to remain light and lifts its viewers to harmonious heights.

The acting is superb. Many viewers will remember Francois Cluzet from Ne le dis a personne (2006) based on Harlan Coben’s novel Tell No One (2001). It is amazing how he builds a character, acting only with his face and voice. Omar Sy, in his first major role, fills the screen with his presence. He won a Cesar (French equivalent of an Oscar) for this role.

Viewers who want to see a heavier take on a paraplegic in a French film will want to see Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007).

Fans of American films such as Trading Places (1983) and The Blind Side (2009) are likely candidates to enjoy Intouchables. If you tend to avoid French and /or foreign films, think again. The themes here are universal and the story tends to tell itself without too much wordiness or too many subtitles.

Do not miss this film.

David Blake
Fiction Department
Central Library

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