Based on a true story (also retold in the best-selling memoir You Saved My Life by Abdel Sellou (due for U.S. release in June)), The Intouchables (which translates to The Untouchable), written and directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, explores the bond that blossomed between the unlikeliest of friends – a quadriplegic French aristocrat living in a Parisian mansion, and a Senegalese man from the projects chosen to be his live-in care giver.
In The Intouchables, the fictional reincarnation of Abdel Sellou, Driss (Omar Sy), applies to be Phillipe’s (François Cluzet) primary care-giver, making the assumption he will be turned down and may simply continue to collect welfare. Being fresh out of prison, this seems the best idea for him at the time… but the plan takes an unexpected turn when Phillipe, tired of being treated like a medical novelty, decides that Driss’ edginess and lack of pity make him the perfect candidate for the position. Having not prepared for the offer of a one-month ‘trial period‘, Driss hesitantly accepts his new job, exposing both himself and the other helping staff in the household to unfamiliar ways of life.
As the story progresses, Phillipe and Driss begin to learn more and more about one another – something that was stagnated by the constant sarcasm and joking shared between them for some time. Their ignorance of each other’s life struggles was greatly overshadowed by their inevitable coming-to-grips with those struggles, and attempting to remain triumphant over them. The need for humor in their growth is a constant, especially when addressing current challenges in life. But it’s not just Phillipe that needs to be broken free from the mental shell he’s been trapped inside. Staff member Yvonne and Phillipe’s adopted daughter, Elisa, both benefit from Driss’ sense of realism and ‘directness‘ – though these traits are not immediately appreciated by Phillipe’s assistant, Magalie.
Being almost totally dialogue-driven, The Intouchables relies heavily on the humorous banter and witty sparring of its characters; only occasionally exploring their emotional challenges and unforgiving realities. A comedian by trade, Omar Sy brought an excitement and physical liveliness to Driss; whereas Cluzet, playing a man paralyzed from the neck down, had to do exactly the opposite – and he does it beautifully. Everything about these characters felt real – their subtleties, facial expressions, body language.
The clash of social classes and life experiences are truly what make this movie stand out. No conversation is routine, as each character has something to learn from the other – disagreements over ‘fine art’, the difference between classical music and 70’s funk, love and women, the meaning of ‘pragmatic’, what it is to be handicapped in some way or another. In this sense, every interaction between Driss and all other characters has the opportunity to become a humorous, eye-opening, confusing or inspiring moment.
As humor is used in a rather light-hearted manner throughout The Intouchables, the opposite is not necessarily true. The character development occurs almost solely between Phillipe and Driss; placing the lives of many other characters (especially Driss’ family) in the shadows throughout the film. Our two lead characters do share some heart-felt conversations, but the lack of cinematic information given to everyone else around them, leaves a sense of longing for more. Though it’s based on true events, this film is by no means a tear-jerker… which almost felt like something was missing. Was it because I wanted to cry? Or perhaps the writer/director team, focusing on the lives of two seemingly ‘untouchable’ men, felt that a greater message could be achieved without the expected tears and cliche sob stories.
** In just nine weeks after its release in France on 2 November 2011, The Intouchables became the second most successful French film of all time (in number of viewers) and been number one for ten consecutive weeks since its release in the French box office.
More info on IMDB.