Thursday, 24 November 2011

Intouchables (2011)

Image: Gaumont

This is the based-on-a-true-story tale of a poor young black man from the ghetto who ends up caring for a rich white quadriplegic man, leading to both of them learning new things about themselves. No, no, come back! Admittedly, describing the plot in such a way makes this sound like a mawkish mess of a film to avoid at all costs, but doing so would mean missing out on one of the most effortlessly enjoyable and heart-warming films of the year.
The film begins in medias res with a funny sequence featuring some great Paris driving action. It might be nicked wholesale from Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights but it works, and provides a wonderfully cinematic opening. We meet Philippe, who was paralysed from the neck down in a paragliding accident, and Driss, the wayward young man who looks after him. Next we go back in time to their meeting, and witness how this odd coupling came about.
Driss comes to a job interview for the position of Philippe’s carer solely in an effort to get the requisite amount of signatures to allow him to claim his unemplyment benefit, pinching a Fabergé egg from Philippe’s house while he’s at it. Philippe, however, is impressed with the candid candidate (especially compared to the milquetoast bunch of applicants we see being interviewed in an amusing sequence reminiscent of Shallow Grave) and gives him the job.
Obviously what comes next is not hard to guess at: Philippe teaches Driss to appreciate art and classical music; Driss opens Philippe up to sensual (ear) massages and bling. These scenes could have turned out painfully trite and cheesy, but are saved by the joie de vivre which illuminates them. The writing-directing team of Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache have made a truly beautiful film, with some breathtakingly staged moments. An obvious highlight is the paragliding sequence, joyfully set to Nina Simone, but the less grandiose moments are also charmingly done. Driss’s joy at having his own bath is brilliant, as are his endless attempts to bed Philippe’s assistant Magalie.
The filmmakers were gifted with François Cluzet and Omar Sy as Philippe and Driss. Cluzet (who gained the César for his role in Ne Le Dit A Personne) brings a quiet gravitas to his role, perfectly capturing a man who has come to realise that life is about more than mobility. His desires to escape the confines imposed on him by dint of his handicap are realised through Driss, and Omar Sy too is flawless as the hardened, lonely man who learns the importance of responsibility and friendship.  There are some great supporting actors too, notably Audrey Fleurot as Magalie, whose role is a huge contrast to the ice cold bitch she plays in French TV hit Engrenages, and Anne Le Ny, who does a great line in bemusement.
I went into this film worried that I wouldn’t find anything new in it. I rather feared that I’d not be able to shake the mental image of Tea Leaf and Mr Lomax from BBC Two’s Psychoville. It is a credit to everyone involved in the film that such an old formula seems so fresh. This might be due to the underlying truth of the story. Without giving too much away, if the final moments of the film don’t bring a lump to your throat, you are made of stone. It might be that repeated viewings will diminish the film’s impact but for the moment, as La Simone would say, I’m feeling good!
Verdict: Life-affirming, funny, gorgeous and, yes, touching, Intouchables is a slice of pure celluloid joy which, if you let it, should sweep you away.

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