Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Intouchables

Intouchables; tragicomedy, France, 2011; D: Olivier Nakache, Éric Toledano, S: François Cluzet, Omar Sy, Audrey Fleurot, Coltilde Mollet

In spite of all expectations, the rich Philippe, paralyzed from the waist down, hires the black outcast Driss who is unemployed and practically homeless to care for him. The wild Driss is at first not overwhelmed with "babysitting" Philippe in a wheelchair, but slowly starts to become his friend and "livens" up his routine by driving in a fast car, increasing the speed of his wheelchair up to 8 miles per hour and helping his adopted teenage daughter. After a short "pause" from work, Driss even manages to find Philippe a wife.

A French movie about a man in a wheelchair seemed like a project doomed for a double failure at the box office, but "The Intouchables" not only became one of the highest grossing movies worldwide of that year, but also surprisingly the 2nd highest grossing French film in its native country (with over 19 million viewers) till date. Thematically similar to the French film "Nationale 7", loosely based on the real life relationship between Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and Abdel Yasmin Sellou, directors Nakache and Toledano crafted one of the rare kind of movies that give something positive out of a negative, depressive story, showing a universal message viewers can identify with: we have two outsiders living at the "bottom" of society (one physically handicapped, the other financially) who somehow find ways to celebrate life, find happiness and swim at the top nonetheless. Despite some oversimplified solutions, inconsistencies (it is never clear why Driss is such an optimist while around Philippe, but otherwise so serious and "down" privately) and omissions (a few banal or heavy handed attempts at cheap humor; the underdeveloped character of Philippe's adopted daughter Elise...), this is a remarkably spiritual serious comedy that extracts humor in untypical ways: in one great example, Philippe brings Driss to see an opera for the first time, the lights go out, and then the lights turn on to reveal a singing man dressed as a tree, upon which Driss bursts in laughter. So simple and yet so amazing. Driss' comments may be unorthodox (upon finding out Philippe is communicating with a woman only via letters, he calls him "letter seducer") but symbolically he represents what the authors intended, namely raw energy that gives power to his friend.


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