It’s funny how for both the times I ended up writing a review for a film, they were movies that I had seen because of a mistake. The iconic Sean Connery, Kevin Costner starrer “The Untouchables” was what I was looking for, and my friend ended up giving me a French movie “The Intouchables.” And just as before, I sure am glad for his mistake.
Well, let me jump to the point. Although this particular film didn’t seem to make it big on the Academy Awards scenario and most people have probably not even heard of it, in France, it was voted as the “Cultural Event of the Year 2011.” It has become almost a phenomenon in the country, becoming the second most successful film in French history.
The movie starts at night. The first thing that hits you is a riveting background score, the beauty of which only keeps increasing, almost exponentially, through the film. The scene is inside a car. Two men are sitting silently. One the driver, the other the passenger. And then out of the blue, the guy driving the car starts speeding. Cuts through traffic, runs a red signal, and causing enough infractions for the cops to get on his tail. That’s when he bets the other, older guy a 100 euros that he’ll shake them off. The bet is on, and so is the chase. Alas, our man is no Jason Statham. He is stopped. And just when a spark of sanity seems to sparkle in his eyes, he bets the older man 200 euros that the police will actually escort them to where they’re going. What ensues will make you smile no matter what. The older man is a tetraplegic, who feigns a stroke, and the police fall for it. Escorting our two men, who are now laughing away with a puff of weed, to the hospital. After this, the movie runs into a flashback.
Meet Driss, played wonderfully by Omar Sy. An unemployed, young black man from the ghettos of Paris, having recently had a stint in the cooler. He walks the street with a devil-may-care attitude. Seemingly unperturbed about everything. Having no direction in life, yet having the look of a man who has it all figured out. Now meet Philippe, an equally marvelous character played by François Cluzet of “French Kiss” fame. A tetraplegic aristocrat, owing his condition to a paragliding accident, who has servants to do his bidding 24/7. He, with his assistant, Magalie (Audrey Fleurot) is interviewing people for the job of a personal caretaker. Driss, who is waiting in line, has no intention of being hired. He just wants a signature of rejection on his paper, in order to continue receiving his welfare benefits. You’ll end up being as puzzled as Philippe’s assistant as to why he takes Driss seriously. But then again, these events actually happened, so who are we to question? Driss is asked to come the following day to collect his paper. Disappointed, but having no option, he leaves. When he reaches home, we are introduced to a large family, almost culturally typical. His aunt, upon seeing him, throws him out for not having been home for the last six months. But as I said before, Driss is hardly bothered. The next day morning, he reports back to Philippe’s mansion to collect the paper. And that’s where the real movie starts. Instead of rejecting the man, Philippe hires him on a trial basis, making sure to mention that nobody before has lasted more than a week, owing to Philippe’s strict schedules. Driss, having nothing to lose accepts the job. However, the first day itself on the job, being asked to put medical stockings on Philippe’s feet, and then later to help him with his, erm.. bowel movements proves too much to handle for Driss. Yet, for some reason, he holds on. Now, it is important for me to state that while Driss is an almost wasted young man, flouting authority and with nothing to live for, Philippe happens to be a man of discipline and respect. How is the first supposed to run around at the bidding of the other, is difficult to put in mere words. Yet, a bond forms. And only gets stronger through the remaining length of the movie.
One of the best scenes is where Driss pulls out Philippe’s neighbour from his car and asks him to not park it again in front of Philippe’s gate. Something that no caretaker had done before. As Philippe later tells his lawyer, that though Driss is on the edge of danger, he shows no empathy for his tetraplegic employer. But he is tall, strong, healthy and not as dumb as people think. Throughout the rest of the movie, the former of Philippe’s aforementioned statements shine out. The fact that Driss does not feel much empathy or pity for Philippe’s condition, in spite of the fact that this is probably the worst condition a man can possibly be in. Too much of sweetness from the people around you can eventually lead to a bitter, repulsive taste on the tongue. And so, Driss’ bluntness is a welcome relief for his employer. Normally we would cringe at a man who shows a lack of pity, yet there’s no way you won’t smile when Driss asks Philippe, “Where will you find a tetraplegic?” and answers- “Where you left him!” What Philippe always had required was someone to treat him like a man who was still alive, and not as someone who was already half dead. And this is precisely what he gets from Driss, who passes the trial week, and gets a full time employment. The employer happens to be a connoisseur of the finer arts and Mozart’s music. The employee however is one who believes that the “finer” arts are nothing but blobs of paint, and music ain’t music if you can’t dance to it. How these lives, which not even the most battle scarred poker player would bet on to co-exist is shown beautifully in the movie. That credit goes as much to the directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano as to the sincere and sublime acting by almost all the actors. Soon, Driss wins over the hearts of everyone in the house, almost a la Munnabhai, only better. The house in-charge Yvonne (Anne Le Ny) brings in another few moments worth flexing your smile muscles.
The one scene which will definitely remain with you after the movie is where Driss and Philippe go for assisted paragliding. The background score, especially in that scene had me googling for the composer. It happens to be the genius of a man called Ludovico Einaudi. When someone tells you of an overall storyline of a film about a lonely tetraplegic man, being taken care of by a caretaker, one would normally think of it as a sad film. At least in the hands of an Indian director, there’s no doubt there would be tear jerking scenes throughout the film. But this French masterpiece leaves no room for tears. There are jokes- subtle, blunt, and unexpected. Basically the whole lot. This is a movie that is made to make you laugh. This is a story that just NEEDS to be told! Forgive the cliche, but the way the two men blend despite being like oil and water, is worth every second of the 112 minutes of the film.
I really feel like writing about more scenes and moments, but that would be like ruining a perfectly beautiful movie. You’ll involuntarily smile seeing how Driss grows as a person, learning to appreciate those “finer” things. And on the other hand, how Philippe changes from being as mechanical as the chair he’s in to rediscovering the fact that though he is paralysed from neck down, his heart still beats, and now with an increased vigour. Believe me, gems like these don’t come along very often. There’s almost no room to find faults. It’s not like they’re non-existent, but when seeing something as believably innocent and beautiful as “The Intouchables,” you’d be an utter arsewipe to point them out.
So, it goes without telling that watching this movie is an absolute recommendation for your summer’s to-do list. Also note that Omar Sy beat Jean Djuardin (nominated for “The Artist” ) at the César Award for Best Actor. The only reason the movie didn’t make it big in mainstream Hollywood was because of Driss’ unempathetic take on tetraplegism. The righteous men in Hollywood believed that to be blasphemous.Nevertheless ‘The Intouchables’ is a heartwarming and a highly recommended film. Don’t Miss It.