The Intouchables

Year: 2011
Directors: Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano
Starring: Francois Cluzet, Omar Sy, Anne Le Ny, Audrey Fleurot
Written by Wan Tyszkiewicz

If I was on a one-woman mission to persuade the people of Britain to watch subtitled films, then ‘The Intouchables’ is the movie that I’d tell everyone to watch first. Never mind all the other subtitled films that you’ve started but never finished. By the end of this film you won’t remember the subtitles and I promise that you’ll want to watch it all over again. Awarded a ridiculous number of trophies in the International Best Foreign Language category, it was one of the biggest surprises of the 2013 Oscar nominations when it wasn’t nominated. Along with Kathryn Bigelow for ‘Hurt Locker’ and Ben Affleck for ‘Argo’ (not nominated in the best director category) these films were royally snubbed by the Academy in a year that had everyone screaming “WTF?” when ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ stole the top prize.

Written and directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, ‘The Intouchables’ was very well received by both critics and the public alike at the time of its release. Picked up by the Weinstein Group and then tweaked to make it more marketable; this re-marketing strategy was never going to work. Putting the word ‘The’ before the title ‘Intouchables’ did nothing more than confuse viewers. On an overnight flight I spent a good ten-minutes puzzling over how to activate the movie in English before realising that it was French with English subtitles ONLY. It was also on this flight, whilst watching the film, that the cabin crew asked if I could stop laughing so loudly as other passengers were trying to sleep! Rumoured to be in production, an English speaking all American version of the film is due to be released in the not too distant future. Why? Rhetorical question. 

‘The Intouchables’ is based on a true story, and right from the high-octane opening involving a Maserati car chase through the streets of Paris, this is a thoroughly engaging and totally compelling piece of filmmaking. It starts with a brief flash-forward (this isn’t a spoiler – it’s a helpful tip because the flash-forward isn’t obvious). There are plenty of fabulous characters that contribute to the film’s richness, but in this review I’m only going to focus on the two main actors, primarily because any other comment or reference would be a spoiler.

Philippe, played by François Cluzet, is a quadriplegic who has sustained life-changing injuries in a paragliding accident. With the death of his beloved wife, Philippe is now struggling with the idea of being completely dependent on his trusted employees. The story commences with Philippe and his personal assistant interviewing candidates for the role of caregiver, during which time Philippe is sickened by the pity and obsequiousness of the applicants who choose to talk to the able-bodied assistant rather than the disabled employer, ignoring the fact he is still intellectually competent. Enter Driss (Omar Sy) – an unlikely job applicant that arrives for his interview with the sole purpose of getting yet another job rejection signature on his welfare papers, thus enabling him to claim benefits. Driss has recently been released from prison, a French-African from a broken family and tough living conditions – a far cry from the opulent environment he finds himself in. Against all advice, Philippe wagers Driss that he won’t be able to last a month if he takes the job. What transpires is extraordinary. 

Driss must learn to think about someone else’s needs and in the process he starts to engage with his own disparate family and seeks to take responsibility as an adult male. At the same time Philippe learns how to live in a body that he can no longer control with a mind that cannot rest. Together these men form a bond that is touching, respectful and completely without pity on either side. They embark on a series of adventures and antics that are laugh out loud funny and deeply moving at times too. There are some cheesy moments, but the great performances from the leading actors, outweigh the ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ moments that some critics have compared this film with.

I don’t watch many films more than once (unless I’m reviewing a film), but I’ve seen ‘The Intouchables’ more than twenty times now, and I never tire of it. I always see something that I missed previously – this is my go-to feel-good movie when life gets a little hard. A visually excellent piece with great direction from Nakache and Toledano and strong performances from Cluzet and Sy. Will this film make you cry? Probably. But not because it’s a sad story. On the contrary, ‘The Intouchables’ is a delightful tale about courage, overcoming challenges and finding true friendship in unlikely places.


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