Friday, May 03, 2013

The Intouchables

From the opening roar of a Maserati pursued by police along the Parisian périphérique, Intouchables captivates. At the wheel Driss, (Omar Sy) a young, Senegalese street hustler, bets his passenger, Philippe (François Cluzet) a middle-aged, bourgeois Parisian, he can escape. Cornered but not defeated, Driss ups the ante to secure a police escort. With Phillippe aping a potentially fatal fit, Driss races to A&E with Earth, Wind and Fire blaring above the attendant sirens.
Flash back to Driss, fresh from a prison stretch, unwelcome at his Mother's overcrowded flat on the sprawling Berlioz housing slum. Living on benefits conditional on attending interviews, Driss applies to care for Philippe, a rich quadriplegic confined to his first arrondissement mansion. Devoid of pity or reverence for Philippe's rarefied world, Driss's open about his motivation optimistically coming on to Magalie (Audrey Fleurot), Philippe's assistant. Although totally unsuitable, Philippe withholds his signature to satisfy the benefit agency. Forced to return, Driss around his expansive quarters and homeless, Driss reluctantly accepts a trial recoiling at the indignities expected of him. Despite initial tantrums and ineptitude, Driss develops an unlikely relationship with Philippe that transforms the entire household.
Intouchables, contrary to the tragic set up, is one of the funniest comedies of the year. Creative collaborators Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano have produced a string of popular and critical successes since 1995. They took France by storm when Intouchables, based on a true story, was originally released in November 2011. The films worldwide release has broken box office records for a French language film, racked up awards, contending for an Oscar and already scheduled to be remade in English by The Weinstein Company; it will need a brave director to try and live up to the original.
Intouchables's casting is superb. Cluzet plays Philippe, a former adrenalin junkie born to entitlement but paralysed in a paragliding accident and mourning his wife. His performance, with the physical limits of Philippe's condition, is an expressive master class, his comic timing perfect. Sy, who emerged from the working-class suburbs of Paris himself, is authentic and effortlessly charismatic as Driss, the aimless, street smart, opportunist whose overwhelming vitality is infectious.
Their cultural clashes drive the comedy. Philippe fills his life with intellectual stimulation; poetry, art, opera and classical music repressing the physical pleasures he can no longer feel. Directionless and irresponsible, Driss grasps all life has to offer living in the moment and, forgetting or dismissing his employer's disability. For Philippe Berlioz is the great French composer of the 19th Century; to Driss Berlioz is his family's housing project. While Philippe has poetic epistolic relationships, Driss collects hooker's flyers and constantly propositions Magalie. For his birthday Philippe's extended family gather for a dour classical concert but Driss gets them all grooving to Boogie Wonderland.
It's an education for both. The odd couple overcome the barriers of class and race, sharing honesty, humour and contempt for bourgeois pretension. Through Driss' ignorance and innocence, cajoling and challenge, Philippe's rediscovers the pleasures and possibility of life while Driss matures, developing empathy and a knowledge of classical cultural denied his social class.
Intouchables avoids sentimentality touching on the deeper issues of social class and discrimination poignantly reminding the viewer to live life to the fullest and embrace our common humanity.

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