Easily one of the more delightful, charming and comical imports of the past couple of years, “The Intouchables” is delightfully upbeat and intensely moving with a splendid music score.
Based on a true story of friendship between a handicap millionaire (Francois Cluzet), and his street smart ex-con caretaker (Omar Sy), it depicts an unlikely camaraderie rooted in honesty and humor between two individuals who, on the surface, would seem to have nothing in common.
An unemployed immigrant in Paris, Driss (Sy) is merely looking for someone to sign his form, acknowledging that he’s applied for jobs, so he can collect unemployment benefits. Fresh out of prison after a six-month stint for robbery, he catches the eye of Philippe (Cluzet), who admires his willingness to look at him as a person, rather than just a good deed. Philippe offers him a trial run as his caretaker, a position which Driss accepts, and what develops between the two is a mutually rewarding and respectful friendship.
As the movie begins, we see Philippe, an unshaven and dejected figured slumped in the passage seat of a car being driven Driss. The mood is somber and the score is mellow as the two quietly cruise through the streets of Paris. In a sudden act of bravado, Driss increases his speed, pushing the sports car past the city speed limit. The mood changes, and as the music from Kool and the Gang now blasts on the car stereo, the duo are pursued by the police in an incident which turns comical as the two put on a believable charade for the authorities. It’s that moment that packs quite an emotional impact for these two menone at a physical disadvantage, and the other at a socioeconomic disadvantage have a strange and unexpected symmetry that makes a deep connection possible.
Nominated for nine César Awards, France’s equivalent to the Oscars, “The Intouchables” won the Best Picture accolade, including a Best Actor award for breakout star Omar Sy.
It’s heart-tugging enough, but is never close to cloying, for there is enough humor to keep it from getting too sugary.
A Senegalese actor who grew up in France, Sty brings considerable depth to his role with his dramatic gestures and a charismatic performance which elicits a lot of laughs. In one scene, he naively uses foot lotion as hair shampoo while bathing Philippe, and wonders why it fails to lather. In another scene, he encourages Philippe to smoke a joint and refers to composer Johann Sebastian Bach as the Barry White of the 18th Century.
Beautifully crafted, it makes no apologies for its warmth, laughs at the cynicism of the world around it, and mostly succeeds in the process.
What makes this work is its lovely, moving succession of moods, sounds and images. Sty and Cluzet have winning personalities, but credit should also go to directors Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache for getting the balance right between humor and pathos.
“The Intouchables” is a little somber, but overall it’s an extremely engaging, good-hearted story with a wonderful slice of humor. It features strong acting and directing, lots of keen observations about what it’s like living under two different class systems and overall offers plenty of warm humor.