Originally released under the title Intouchables in its country of origin, France, late last year and arriving on these shores now re-titled Untouchable, in a blizzard of hype, a mountain of box office receipts- the second highest grossing film of all time in France- and proclamations about it being film of the year. So does the actual film live up to all this pre-release publicity? In a word, yes.
It is a touching and darkly humorous tale which although occasionally lapses into sentimentality it does it well and if you leave the cinema not feeling emotionally touched-in several different ways often during the same scene- about this relationship between two strangers, one from the wrong side of the tracks and one born into a life of privilege but now rendered a quadriplegic after a paragliding accident, then I can only assume that you are emotionally void or, more correctly, in the words of John Lennon ‘crippled inside’.
The two central protagonists from different sides of the tracks Driss (Omar Sy) and Philippe (Francois Cluzet) are expertly characterized by the actors who portray them and the chemistry between them- it is based on a true story- is perfectly captured. Meanwhile the script and direction by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano is sympathetic whilst threatening to but never actually slipping into lachrymose sentimentality or cloying sweetness.
The unlikely friendship is initiated after Driss arrives at Philippe’s office under the pretence of applying for a job which requires his signature enabling him to claim benefits. Philippe, instead, spots something in Driss’s lack of reverence, respect and manners which appeals to him-being rich and disabled he is surrounded by fawning sycophants who make him feel useless- and offers him the post of personal carer. Not having many other prospects Driss accepts and finds himself living in the lap of luxury with so many possibilities at his fingertips.
The relationship quickly gathers pace and in a short time they become co-conspirators with Driss’s disregard for convention and Philippe’s entrenchment within it. It makes for many amusing moments especially the birthday party Philippe’s aides organise involving classical musicians which Driss transforms into a dance fest complete with Earth, Wind and Fire disco classics. A trip to the opera is also amusing and the fact that Philippe manages to sell Driss’s first attempts at art –basically dripping gloss paint from a tin onto a canvas- to a ‘connoisseur’ show that he is also aware to some extent of the pretensions which have always surrounded him.
It is a relationship which thrives on its differences but at the crux of it all there are also similarities which enable them to bond. Driss possesses the physical attributes no longer available to Philippe and at the same time he reminds him it is still possible for him to enjoy himself and laugh at life. Unlike other buddy films of this genre it also has its moments of introspection which allows the audience to see the bonds being forged without having to articulate them through weighty dialogue. A look, a smile, a grimace, a frown or even a deep knowing sense of comprehension showing their bonding are all delivered through nuances in the performances. The chemistry between Philippe and Driss appears to be as authentic as their real life counterparts.
Untouchable then goes a long way to living up to the hype which has surrounded it. It manages to be a feel good film which never slips into well worn cliché. It is impossible to resist on so many levels- there would have to be something broken inside of you if you are unable to discern any pleasure from this film- and whilst I am not convinced it is the film of the year it is definitely a film which will make your day.