Film Review – The Intouchables

The Intouchables (M)

Directed by: Olivier Nakachi, Eric Toledano

Starring: François Cluzet, Omar Sy

Four and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Odd couple films can be an easy (read: lazy) way to get some cheap laughs. Pair a grumpy old man with a bright young fellow, or a rich person with a poor person, or someone uptight with someone easy-going. Watch them clash and cue the laughs. Usually, very little imagination is utilised to bring these familiar stories to the screen. The Intouchables, based on a true story, sticks fairly close to the worn formula, but includes something that many other do not – characters to care about and warm, genuine humour that is icing on the top of what is a delicious account of the relationship that develops between an unlikely pair.

We get a glimpse of the bond between quadriplegic Phillipe (Dustin Hoffman lookalike François Nakachi) and his carer Driss (Omar Sy) during an uproarious opening sequence in which the pair are caught speeding through Paris. We don’t know where  they are going or where they came from but the pair manage to stave off apprehension by police with claims the disabled man is having a seizure, complete with faked jolts and a beard covered in saliva. They even score an escort from the unsuspecting cops to the hospital. All the while, the two men are having the time of their lives, barely able to contain themselves from fits of the laughter.

Rewind a few months and we learn the dribbling, giggly quadriplegic wasn’t always one to have fun at the expense of the authorities. In fact, he was a stuffy man with little zest for life left. That is until Driss, recently released from prison, rocks up to the millionaire’s mansion to apply for a job as his carer with no experience or expectation of getting it. He just needs a signature to prove he is job hunting to get a government pay-out. Driss is brash but Phillipe feels the younger, rough around the edges Driss will be the perfect no-nonsense employee.

There is no questions where this is all heading as the poverty-stricken criminal Driss shows the proper Phillipe a different side to life and vice versa. They both learn from each other and their eyes are opened to things they have not seen before. But what makes this a winner and a greater crowd pleaser than, say, The Sapphires is the time and care that is given to making these two characters and their relationship more than just film fodder. The bond is stronger and the emotional connection deeper than most buddy flicks. We are also exposed to the difficulties face by a paraplegic that is not often explored – child rearing, dating and sexual pleasure are candidly tackled, giving the proceedings a needed jolt of realism.

Writer/directors Olivier Nakachi, Eric Toledano also strike that very difficult balance of allowing us to laugh with Phillipe about his restrictions and not at him. Driss often pokes fun at Phillipe, as he does himself, but it is never mean-spirited teasing – an important tone to strike, which if mishandled, would be disastrous. It is this miraculous balance established in the opening sequence and later maintained throughout that allows the audience to be swept up in their story despite some clichéd moments.

The Intouchables was screened as part of the 2012 Melbourne International Film Festival.

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