Film Fest 9: 'The Intouchables' (2011)
By Violet India Chaudoir
To call a film which explores the relationship between a quadriplegic and his carer ‘comedic’ seems like dangerous territory. In my experience, films today that portray disability tend to leave me exiting a cinema with a tear-streaked face, bemoaning society’s incompetence. Instead, Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano’s French film The Intouchables left me with quite the opposite - a stomach aching from laughter and a heart warmed with charm.
The film’s premise isn’t too distant from that of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, with both being based upon a true story. The Intouchables tracks the complicated relationship between Philippe (Francios Cluzet), a Parisian millionaire quadriplegic, and his carer Driss (Omar Sy). Driss is a West African working class man who applies for the post to appease the benefits office. After Driss’s successful posting, the two quickly form a charismatic companionship upon which a fine balance is struck. The film manoeuvres across a delicate tightrope, between a revelrous teasing and a subtle tenderness. This carefully scripted relationship allows the laughter and warmth of the pair to stand before the wheelchair.
One remarkable feat of the film, according to Robbie Collin, is that it’s “not really a film about race, or disability, or anything other than friendship”. The films consistently upholds contrasts; health vs. disability, wealth vs. economic difficulty, a white man’s experience of the world vs. a black man’s experience. Neither world is considered with less importance. Driss’s life and emotional experience is as fleshed out as Philippe and his health difficulties. The portraits of both men and their families are fully illustrated. As Driss re-constitutes a relationship with his brother who begins skipping school, Philippe reconnects with his rebellious daughter. They each aid each other in these endeavours, protecting and defending the other’s family, not allowing class or race to become a barrier. When Philippe’s friends raise their prejudiced concerns towards Driss’s involvement, they are swiftly dismissed. The audience revels in Philippe’s passion for Vivaldi, whilst grooving to Driss’s love of ‘Earth, Wind and Fire’. Neither world is excluded, neither man can claim the role of‘protagonist’. These are simply people drawn together by basic compassion, honesty and humour. Eric Toledano suggested the film redefines audience’s understanding of heroes, for no longer are capes required, instead, there stands "two simple people who can accept the fragility of their lives”. There is no hierarchy - the figures meet mid-way, in some way Driss stands in for Philippe’s body.
By no means has The Intouchables gone unrecognised. Even if my words cannot convince you of the film’s brilliance, perhaps a few statistics might… The film stands as 38th on IMDb’s Top 250 Films and is France’s second highest grossing film of all time, selling three times as many tickets as The Artist. It is the most successful French film of all time in Germany, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Israel, Denmark, Iceland, Estonia, South Korea, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Norway. A year following the film’s release Eric Toledano received more than 3,000 thank you messages from wheelchair users across the world and recognition from The Christopher & Diana Reeve Foundation. Do not be averted by subtitles, for this film compels a universal humanity and holds an international adoration.