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The unapologetic story about a white quadriplegic millionaire and a black man fresh out of jail could be the movie experience you’ve been waiting for all year. Directors/screenwriting team Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano were inspired by the real life story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his caretaker Abdel Sellou to make the moving tale of a friendship created from the most unlikely situation.
Philippe is bound to a wheelchair and leads a fairly isolated but high brow existence. He is dependent on his staff to do everything for him, but is frustrated by the exaggerated sensitivity of professionals. While interviewing for yet another assistant, Driss shows up. Driss is fresh out of jail and only looking to get a paper signed so he can qualify for benefits. Philippe is intrigued by the roughness of Driss’ personality and decides to hire him for a trial period.
This is the beginning of an intriguing friendship. Nakache and Toledano have molded their story around this young man from the slums and the privileged but physically helpless cripple. It does not necessarily woo you with social relevance, but draws a wonderful portrait of two men’s very different abilities to sympathize without pitying, and pushing each other to become a better person.
Philippe is played by the French film and theater actor François Cluzet, who the English-speaking audience may remember as Bob from the 90’s romantic comedy ‘French Kiss.’ Cluzet won a César Award in 2007 for his part in the French thriller ‘Ne le dis á Personne,’ but you may also recognize him for his uncanny resemblance to Dustin Hoffman. His interpretation of a man who has everything but the ability to enjoy it is eloquent and subtle– and convincing. The characterization of Philippe has an obvious upper-class air to it, and his seemingly aloof smiles keep the audience wondering what really goes on in his mind.
The only person who really seems able to reach behind Philippe’s dissociating facade is Driss. The lead in ‘Intouchables’ is pretty much split right down the middle between François Cluzet and Omar Sy, and it is their interaction that becomes the core achievement of Nakache and Toledano’s work. Omar Sy plays Driss: a down-on-his-luck immigrant with a complicated past and no future in sight. Even though you would categorize Driss at a glance as a thug, he is not a bad person. He possesses unique qualities as a human that, not even in his wildest fantasies lands him the job at Philippe’s house.
Omar Sy has received widespread praise for his portrayal of a cocky smartass of a hoodlum who really just wants what is best for the people he cares about. His blunt and childlike approach to the care of Philippe is both heartwarming and hilarious. Omar Sy has previously had small parts in French cinema, and has been part of a comedy duo with humorist Frédéric Testot as well. He became the first black actor to win the César Award for Best Actor this year, and was also nominated for a Satellite Award for Best Actor.
The film itself received eight nominations at the César Awards 2012 and was announced in September to be the French entry for the Foreign Language category at the 85th Academy Awards.
‘Intouchables’ rests very much on the brilliant interaction between Philippe and Driss, helped by a wonderful supporting cast, particularly Anne Le Ny. The pace of the film is as much an advantage as a disadvantage; it builds upon the experience of how two men would go on with their day if one of them were paralyzed from the neck down, but it also loses some of its momentum when the audience has to sit through yet another piano solo.
Grade: 3/5 – Beautiful performances, wrapped in a beautiful story, tied with the ribbon of beautiful cinematography. However, although you fall in love with their friendship, you can quickly forget the whole experience again. As beautiful as it is, the ease with which Driss slips into the life of Philippe makes this film too good to be true- despite being based on a true story.