‘The Intouchables’ tells story of an unexpected friendship

Omar Sy (left) plays Driss, an ex-con hired to take care of the para­lyzed mil­lion­aire Phil­lippe, played by Fran­cois Cluz­et, in ‘The In­touch­ables.’


Like many Amer­ic­an movie­go­ers, I don’t typ­ic­ally seek out for­eign films with sub­titles. But hear­ing how The In­touch­ables has broken box of­fice re­cords in its nat­ive France and across Europe sparked my curi­os­ity.

Dir­ec­ted by Eric Toledano and Olivi­er Na­kache, the film was nom­in­ated for a total of nine 2012 C&ea­cute;sar Awards, France’s equi­val­ent to the Oscars, and won Best Act­or for Omar Sy.

I was pleased with my de­cision to check it out, as The In­touch­ables turned out to be a funny, mov­ing true story of friend­ship between a han­di­capped mil­lion­aire, Phil­lippe (Fran­cois Cluz­et) and his ex-con care­taker Driss (Sy).

Phil­lippe, para­lyzed from the neck down in a paraglid­ing ac­ci­dent, is in­ter­view­ing new care­takers when a bois­ter­ous young man ar­rives and by­passes the line of wait­ing ap­plic­ants.

Driss claims he has only stopped by so he can get a signed let­ter stat­ing that he ap­plied and was turned down for a job. This will en­able him to get a wel­fare be­ne­fit check from the gov­ern­ment. He is told to come back the next morn­ing to get his sig­na­ture, and upon ar­rival, he is sur­prised to be giv­en a tour of the man­sion and offered a tri­al peri­od as Phil­lippe’s care­taker.

These guys are as dif­fer­ent as night and day, but Phil­lippe in­sisted he wanted a care­taker that didn’t treat him dif­fer­ently and didn’t of­fer pity, and Driss turned out to be the right man for the job. One par­tic­u­larly mov­ing scene oc­curred when Driss gently com­forts Phil­lippe when he wakes up in the middle of the night in ex­treme pain.

The movie of­fers plenty of feel-good, funny mo­ments such as Driss’ re­ac­tion to the op­era, Driss’ pref­er­ence for R&B mu­sic (he’s a big fan of Earth Wind & Fire) over Phil­lippe’s love of clas­sic mu­sic and Driss’ re­ac­tion to an ex­pens­ive piece of art. It was par­tic­u­larly amus­ing watch­ing them sing along in Eng­lish to Earth Wind & Fire’s Septem­ber.

The film­makers did a good job of get­ting the audi­ence to root for both of them to suc­ceed in life des­pite their in­di­vidu­al chal­lenges and set­backs. The movie handles the del­ic­ate sub­ject of Phil­lippe’s quad­ri­ple­gia with grace and hu­mor, walk­ing the fine line of avoid­ing over­sen­ti­ment­al­ity or shame­less at­tempts to make the audi­ence cry.

Phil­lippe’s fear and ap­pre­hen­sion about meet­ing the wo­man he’s been send­ing po­et­ic let­ters to for the past six months is par­tic­u­larly heart-tug­ging.

While it is a bit clich&ea­cute;d and ste­reo­typ­ic­al (at least from an Amer­ic­an per­spect­ive) that Driss was fresh out of pris­on and on wel­fare, it didn’t par­tic­u­larly af­fect my en­joy­ment of the film. One thing of note in this true story is that the film­makers changed the eth­ni­city of Driss. The real Driss is named Ab­del Sel­lou (he’s pic­tured at the end of the movie) and is from the Ar­ab coun­try of Al­ger­ia in North Africa, while the movie char­ac­ter hails from Seneg­al in West­ern Africa. Cast­ing someone who looked more like Ab­del might have helped lessen the ste­reo­type prob­lem.

Still, it’s im­port­ant to keep in mind that the story is about the bur­geon­ing friend­ship between two com­pletely op­pos­ite people with very dif­fer­ent up­bring­ings. I’ve heard some rumbles of a po­ten­tial Amer­ic­an re­make with Colin Firth as the star, but this is def­in­itely worth check­ing out in its ori­gin­al in­carn­a­tion. ••

Movie Grade: B+

You can reach at shorbrook@bsmphilly.com.

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