The Intouchables is best movie I have seen this year. Granted, the high-brow movies that are expected to win awards don’t usually arrive in theaters until September, so the competition hasn’t been fierce. However, I’m pretty sure that come December, I will still love The Intouchables, and I will still be telling everyone that they have to see it.
I wish someone had told me to see it a few weeks ago, but I didn’t even bother to pay attention to the reviews or the buzz, because I thought it was going to be a disease-of-the-month movie. This is terrible of me, and I deserve the slapped. But I tend to balk at movies about people overcoming unfortunate maladies, whether it’s autism as in Rain Man, schizophrenia as in A Beautiful Mind, or cerebral palsy as in My Left Foot. As well made as those movies were, I felt as if I was being forced into uplift; seeing them felt like a chore. So, when I saw that The Intouchables was a true story about a quadriplegic, I found other movies to see. I just didn’t want to do the work. And when I tell you that it is in French and subtitled, you may not want to do the work either.
But The Intouchables isn’t work. It’s not a movie about overcoming obstacles. It is a movie about friendship, and the friends just happen to be a quadriplegic and his aid. Driss (Omar Sy) only interviews to work for Philippe (François Cluzet) because he needs a certain number of interviews to qualify for welfare. But something about Driss’s humor and brashness intrigues Philippe, and he gets the job. Driss, a tall and handsome Senegalese man, has just gotten out of prison and kicked out of the overcrowded apartment where he lived with his mother and numerous siblings. That the job comes with an enormous bedroom room and enormous bathtub is rather attractive.
Philippe is extremely wealthy and extremely cultured, and his mansion in Paris looks like it could double as a set for Moliere comedy. He was paralyzed in a paragliding accident just before his wife died. Driss makes the blunt observation that Philippe has bad luck. Philippe’s friends and other employees seem to agree. They are suspicious of Driss, who has no experience with the disabled and has at times a foul temper. But over time, Driss proves to be an indispensible assistant and Philippe best friend.
The movie is about opposites attracting and about learning from the oppositions. Driss learns about abstract art, German opera, and how to be a professional, while Philippe re-learns how to have fun, to take risks with love, and to appreciate Earth, Wind and Fire. While the story is rather simple (even formulaic), writers and directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano gives us such layered, fascinating characters that the movie becomes rather complex.
Philippe is anxious, mischievous, slightly self-pitying, and lonely, despite his many friends and extended family. Cluzet, who could not move anything but his neck to play Philippe, uses his eyes and his smile to great affect. He doesn’t garner sympathy as much as affection. And Driss is funny, eager, angry, hurt, and loyal. He’s a great dancer, and he’s a horrible tease. Sy’s performance is so charismatic, versatile, and charming that he won a César for Best Actor – France’s Oscar. He beat Jean Dujardin, who won the actual Oscar this year for The Artist. Sy’s is a better performance, but that is only one of many reasons to see The Intouchables.
Don’t make me tell you again. Go.
Written and directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano
Starring François Cluzet and Omar Sy
At Landmark Hillcrest and Reading Town Square