FILM: The Transformative Power of Friendship and Humor in “The Intouchables”

Comedy / Drama / Foreign / Indie / June 1, 2012

The Intouchables” is something of a phenomenon in its native country. Smashing box office records in France and across Europe, this truly touching film made me laugh, cry, think about the meaning of life, and develop a pretty huge crush on French film star, Omar Sy.

But, with sudden popularity comes the army of detractors proclaiming that it surely can’t be as good as the misguided French think it is. And so recently, accusations of racism and conventionality have been bandied about the American press — and they completely and utterly miss the point!

Yes, “The Intouchables” is about a white man and a black man. Yes, the black man is employed by the white man as a health care aide. But this is not a film about exploitation, or any other racist literary tropes. This film, first and foremost, is about the transformative nature of friendship — and perhaps even more so — the healing power of laughter.

I’d like to give credit to one of the best opening credit sequences I’ve seen in a while: We’re put right into the action, with Driss (Omar Sy) driving Philippe (Francois Cluzet) through the streets of Paris. Amid confrontations with the police, and an excellent Earth, Wind, & Fire sing-a-long, we see the joy both men experience in each other’s company.

Plus, as far as I’m concerned, any movie that begins with “September” by Earth Wind & Fire automatically gets bonus points.

So how did a wealthy, paraplegic member of the French elite come to be friends with a Senegalese immigrant (and, at times, petty thief)?

While Philippe is conducting interviews for his new live-in caretaker, Driss shows up to get his form signed so that he is eligible for government benefits. After all, the other candidates turn out to be total dweebs (as well as some shameless flirting with Philippe’s assistant), Driss is offered the position.

When Philippe’s family and friends protest his hiring choice and deride Driss as “a street-thug with no pity,” Philippe insists that it’s the exact thing he wants: No pity.

The ensuing clash of cultures, hilarious misunderstandings and the broadening worldviews of both Philippe and Driss make the film not only touching, but extremely fun to watch.

They share passions (Driss loves 70s funk and disco music), hopes and dreams — and both are ultimately made better men for their association.

“The Intouchables” is mostly based on a true story, with the exception that the caretaker was an Algerian-Muslim man.

The choice to alter his heritage in the film by directors, Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, was done solely out of the belief that French film star Omar Sy was destined for this part.

Nakache and Toledano not only made a beautiful film, but the right casting decision.

Sy is fantastic: Funny, breezy, charming, emotive and, did I mention handsome? He’s even gone on to win a Cesar (French version of the Oscars) for the role.

Despite some backlash about the racial and socio-economic differences between the two men—this is not a story in the vein of such caricaturized racial tellings like “The Help” or “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

This is a story about the stuff that makes life worth living – fancy bathtubs, funny jokes, shameless flirting, good tunes and good friends.

Overall Grade: A

“The Intouchables” is now playing in select theaters, click here for theaters and showtimes.

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Emily Achler

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FILM: The Transformative Power of Friendship and Humor in “The Intouchables”