Pushing Monsieur Daisy (Film Review: “The Intouchables”)

The Intouchables has been on My List for a long time and although I’d heard it was wonderful, I just kept putting it on the back burner. Since screening it the other day, it has declared squatter’s rights in my brain and I find myself grinning and tearing up just thinking about the characters in this incredibly funny and moving story. It’s no wonder the film has broken all global box office records, becoming the highest-grossing movie, to date, in a language other than English. Pas mal, eh?

 

SnapShot Plot

Written and directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano and based on a true story, The Intouchables may seem sentimental, even formulaic on paper: a wealthy, white Parisian businessman paralyzed from the neck down makes a risky choice in hiring a black man from the streets, who most likely has a criminal past, to be his live-in aide, to attend to his every need and in whose hands he would be completely defenseless. On the screen, however, there’s nothing sentimental about this movie, although there is great Sentiment, great Humor, and great Pathos in abundance. Veteran actor, François Cluzet commands the frame with only his face and voice as his instruments. His Philippe is a man whose bank account is vast but to whom fate has dealt a very harsh card. The utterly brutal physical reality of his world, as well as another equally crushing personal loss, would have destroyed a lesser man. He’s got a household of loyal staff but he needs a strong young man to be his arms and legs and to attend to his most personal physical needs. Enter the character of Driss, in an amazing breakout performance by newcomer, Omar Sy, for which he won the César Award for Best Actor. There are smiles and then there’s this smile, an irrepressible, infectious and totally all-consuming grin that jumps off the screen and before you know it, has plastered itself across your own face just watching him. Driss has no skills, no experience and even less interest in playing nursemaid to a stuffy, middle-aged cripple. What he does like, however, are the digs: an amazing house in the best arrondissement in Paris, luxury cars at his disposal, great food, a gorgeous personal secretary he’s convinced has the hots for him, and an awesome private suite with the most luxurious bathtub he’s ever seen. So begins a reluctant work relationship that evolves into a begrudging mutual respect which in turn becomes one of the most transcendent friendships ever captured in cinema.

 

 

Parting Shot

If it weren’t for the buoyant, effervescent portrayals of these two characters and the incredible chemistry between Cluzet and Sy, it might be easy to pigeon-hole The Intouchables as a ‘bromance’ genre film with derivative roots in Driving Miss Daisy, Trading Places or even The Help. That would be too easy and would do this film a grave injustice. Look more deeply, beyond the hi-jinks and the hilarity and what you will find is this: a story about Expectations. Here you’ve got two men intersecting at a point in their lives when neither of them has any real expectations for their futures. In Philippe’s case, his expectations, once so high, have been cruelly diminished and he has adjusted with pragmatic aplomb. In Driss’s case, his only expectations are to survive to the next day until the law or something worse eventually catches up with him. As their bond deepens, each man’s expectations take on previously unimaginable possibilities, for not only themselves but each other.

Memorable Moments: a pivotal early scene in which Driss attends to an ailing Philippe in the middle of the night, at the moment he places his hand on the older man’s cheek; Driss’s solo dance routine to Earth, Wind & Fire during Philippe’s staid birthday celebration and the expression on Philippe’s face as he watches the unabashedly joyful explosion of energy that is Driss.

Personal Note: Thanks to my dear friends, Lisa and Frank who first recommended The Intouchables for Norma’s Streaming Picks, crediting it as the film which coaxed Frank out of his fear of French films. . . voila!

Industry Sidebar: The Intouchables feature film was sourced after a 2003 documentary film called A la Vie, A La Mort (directed by Isabelle Cottenceau and Jean-Pierre Devillers) about real-life characters, Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and Abdel Sellou. And ever since The Weinstein Company has acquired the rights to remake The Intouchables in English, several names have been attached to the project, the latest being Colin Firth playing Philippe and Kevin Hart as Driss. If I were you, I’d stick to the original French version!

 

Featured Image Courtesy of: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=0CAMQjxw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fimages.1233.tw%2Fwatch-the-intouchables-movie%2F&ei=QdRaVPnBOu6V7AahkYCYBQ&psig=AFQjCNEt9PI5dnQPR_QWPmw2g38zwgVVbg&ust=1415325077334720

YouTube Trailer Courtesy of:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34WIbmXkewU

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