Untouchable (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: Entertainment in Video) Running Time: 112 minutes approx.
Paraplegic multi-millionaire Philippe (François Cluzet) and his secretary Margalie (Audrey Fleurot) are interviewing for the role of live in carer for Philippe. One particularly impatient potential candidate, Driss (Omar Sy), refuses to wait any longer and storms into the interview room, purely for Philippe to sign a letter saying he attended the interview so he can claim his benefits. Impressed by Driss’s no nonsense attitude, Philippe gives Driss a one month trial period, setting the pair on a journey that brings about great change for the both of them.
The story of contrasting cultures coming together has been told an immeasurable amount of times but this particular one (known as The Intouchables in its native France) is based on the real life relationship of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his caretaker Abdel Sellou, who make a cameo appearance during the end credits. Subject to some typical dramatic license it would be easy to dismiss this is another slice of schmaltzy audience manipulation but directors Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano have managed to eschew the easy route to deliver a genuinely charming and uplifting tale that possesses enough heart to belie its glossy veneer.
Contrary to what the plot may suggest, this is not a case of the two conflicting parties seeking to change or convert the other to their way of thinking. Yes it happens, of course it does, but much of it comes through osmosis or the awakening of latent instincts which makes for a refreshing change. Street wise, Senegalese immigrant Driss is hardly an Eliza Doolittle in the making while affluent and cultured Philippe has no intention of playing Professor Southgate (or Higgins for you My Fair Lady fans) either, even if this seems to be the direction the roles are heading.
The central theme is one of personal fulfilment and the search for a suitable replacement to the holes in one’s life. Paralysed from the neck down after a paragliding accident, widower Philippe supplants his former active lifestyle with art, music, opera and literature all from the comfort of his wheelchair. He has an adopted daughter Elisa (Alba Gaïa Kraghede Bellugi), whom he ignores and as result she acts like a spoiled brat towards everyone. With previous carers lasting an average of two weeks Philippe makes a bet with Driss he won’t last (a theme that lasts throughout the film). Driss takes up the challenge and as expected the early going is not easy on both men.
When Philipe has a panic attack one night it is Driss’s simplistic approach to take him out for a night time walk (or push in this case) that proves to be a better tonic for Philippe than the usual kid gloves treatment he received previously. Whether smoking joints is also suitable remedy is a matter of opinion. Soon it is not just Philippe that feels the benefit of Driss’s unconventional behaviour – housekeeper Yvonne (Anne Le Ny) and Margalie soon warm to the ebullient newcomer, the latter the obligatory hard-to-get target for his libido. Conversely, Driss begins to appreciate classical music and even takes up painting but his urban roots are still intact, just as Philippe’s breeding stays with him. In true dramatic fashion however the walls start to crumble when Driss’s cousin Adama (Cyril Mendy) shows up seeking refuge from a violent gang, and both parties are faced with a period of re-evaluation of their priorities.
There is no escaping the fact that the story follows the cultural/racial integration conventions right down the line but its strength and enjoyment lies in the central relationship, exceptionally essayed through the two outstanding performances of François Cluzet and Omar Sy. As the engine that drives this film, the development of this bond between this unoriginal yet still intriguing dichotomy is a gradual but perceptively told one, taking in both the funny and the tragic elements of the bumpy road they travel together. One gets the impression that in the scenes where they joke around – at both their own expense and of those around them – that these scenes were improved, such is the naturalness of their reactions and the warmth of their interplay. The shaving scene in particular highlights this perfectly.
Sy’s portrayal as the brash Driss may seem to be the more audience friendly of the pair, as if he is trying to appeal to the energetic Chris Rock/Eddie Murphy audience with his fast paced and loud delivery. Yet Sy manages to retain an earthiness to his character making him quite likeable in places. For Cluzet, being wheelchair bound for the majority of the film doesn’t limit the sheer class and gravitas he exudes in every scene, whether he is the uptight snob, the giggling joker, the upset father or the dignified art lover. The support cast are suitably adept in their roles, while it has to be said that it is refreshing to see Audrey Fleurot playing a much lighter version of her unscrupulous lawyer Josephine Karlsson in the TV series Spiral. She even smiles here!
While Untouchable cannot claim absolute originality in its plot, it can boast a touching and heart warming tale based on a genuine relationship that can be felt in every frame. A smooth mixture of light humour and poignant drama, it conveys a positive message of hope and goodwill to lift even the darkest of spirits without resorting to cheap sentimentality.
A simply joyous and joyful experience.
Rating – ****
Man In Black