Francois Cluzet, Omar Sy, Audrey Fleurot, Clotilde Mollet, Anne Le Ny, Alba Gaia Kraghede Bellugi, Cyril Mendy, Christian Ameri, Gregoire Oestermann, Marie-Laure Descoureaux, Absa Dialou Toure and Salimata Kamate
Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano
Intouchables is the 2012 French Comedy-Drama that became a worldwide sensation. In France, it broke so many box office records. All round the word, in many countries it did the same thing. People everywhere were talking about it. What made me more curious was the fact that people were listing it as the best French film ever. Some who were much more drawn towards contemporary French cinema were calling it the best since "Amelie" etc etc. Looking at the trailer it looked pretty standard buddy comedy to me and well, it did turned out exactly like that. I don't get how this movie became a worldwide phenomenon? There have been many crowd pleasing movies in the past but why this? Here I was, always with this opinion about French as very sophisticated and classy (cinema wise) and well, they are not different from Hollywood crowd after all. This movie is based on a true story that the directors were inspired by watching a documentary about two men, Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his caregiver Abdel Sellou. Intouchables itself begins with a shot of Driss (Sy) driving Philippe (Cluzet) in Maserati at very high speed at night on the roads of Paris. They are stopped by the police, Driss requests them to let him go as his quadriplegic friend must be taken immediately to the hospital. We see Philippe pretending to have a stroke. Rest of the movie is then shown through flashbacks of how this unlikely friendship began. Philippe is a rich quadriplegic who lives in his luxurious mansion. He and his assistant are interviewing candidates to be his live-in caregiver. Driss is there too but he is not interested in the job, he just wants them to sign which will mean that he was interviewed and rejected so that he can continue receiving his welfare benefits. Driss is back the next day for it but is assigned on a trial period job. He learns a bit about Philippe's condition, gets to know the house and learns a bit about how to care for him regularly. Driss comes from a family living a very difficult life.
This has become such a cliche, movies where a rich and uptight/struggling white person learns to love his or her life through the black man/woman because they have seen what real life actually is and can offer a much better perspective to them. Most of these films have an excuse for that, set in a particular time period and social/political change but this so called 'highly unlikely' friendship in the movie never ever feels real. For me, the movie never sets off but frankly it never crashes to the ground as well. It just keeps on floating and gliding in the air without doing much (pun not intended). There are two things that made this experience worthwhile for me, one was Francois Cluzet's performance and the other one was the chemistry between the two leads. Francois Cluzet has to act from his neck up, Philippe always has to sit in his chair. Still Cluzet manages to give a very authentic and engaging performance. You can feel his pain of being in that condition and not having to do what he could have while his legs were fine. His past always haunts him, his wife died in a paragliding incident that left him in this condition. He is struggling with her memories and his own shortcomings. Philippe also has a epistolary relationship with a woman called Eleonore but never wants to actually meet her with the fear that she might act out seeing him in this condition. He enjoys music and everything a normal person does. What Philippe wants in his life from the people around him is to be treated quite normally. Driss is that person for him who never really pities his condition and treats him very normally or rather too normally. He is reckless and carefree but a very decent guy living a hard life. Omar Sy's performance was very nice, not so great that it could beat someone like Jean Dujardin (The Artist) but a fairly nice performance with some decent enough moments. Together, both these actors have quite a chemistry. Keeping aside all the flaws, strictly keeping our attention at the banters and interactions they have together is very fun to watch. They fight the battle of wits and intellects, it feels like they are fighting because one of them always tries to overpower the other in certain situations. One likes rock other loves opera, one likes reading the other likes watching and so on. They have fun together, they go on a trip, they eat and drink together and do all sorts of things. Slowly the relationship that was meant to be of a patient and a caregiver turns into friendship where in the end, each one of them is left with memories and affection to cherish from for the rest of their lives.
Intouchables never really establishes or develops its importance. It neither takes itself very seriously for us to consider it something of significance nor does it understands what its ultimate goal really is? The characters at a given point offer a lot of jokes or some tear inducing moments but they are piled over one after the other without really establishing a character arc. Both the characters are quite charismatic, charisma is only what this movie works on. With the banters and everything, it wants to come off as both serious drama that will make you cry as well as a hilarious movie that you can have fun with. At the end of the day, I never could see Intouchables in any other light but as a predictable feel-good crowd pleasing fare. It has all the things going on at the surface but there is nothing deep inside it. The goal here is to add as much drama or comedy without challenging us or the characters to provide entertainment in a straightforward manner so that this movie can reach out to more people. Then how can anyone take this so seriously? Enjoy it as I did in a limited way but this is far from the best movie of the year. Formulaic development, feels dishonest in its depiction, unashamedly racially stereotypical (without going too racist) and with plot elements all joined together to create something big without working hard enough to make it one on its own. There are much better movies with handicapped characters, much more affective buddy comedies, many other unlikely tales of friendships and love and quite playful racial/social/cultural clash inspired movies. I smiled during some moments, had a few tears in my eyes during the ending but most of the time, it was rather too awkwardly put together, cringe inducing dynamic to really take it seriously. Direction and writing could have been more perfected. The movie starts and ends in a way that forces its importance without working really up to it in the middle part. It was also rather boring in places where the writers were struggling to throw in the next gooey batter of serio/comic cookie. Intouchables is enjoyable in parts but never truly engaging or affective for what it tries to say or show. It has performances and chemistry between the leads that sort of carries the movie. A typical crowd pleasing fare in the end, nothing more or nothing less.