James A. George On Untouchable
Last year this was the second biggest box office success in France ever and voted the cultural event of 2011 in France with 52% of the votes in a poll. Untouchable is a rare laugh-ou- loud gem among the predictably crude Hollywood comedies this year (and years past). Francois Cluzet (my personal favourite contemporary French actor) plays Philippe, quadriplegic busy millionaire businessman that loves classical music and visits to the opera but under his hard shell is very lonely. He takes on Driss, played by comedian Omar Sy, as his new carer, due to the young man’s lack of compassion and sympathy. Driss is impulsive, flirtatious, weed-smoking and loves dancing to Kool & the Gang. The stereotypes are ripe throughout and the cold, dull cinematography of Driss’ flat compared to the lavish home of Philippe shines colourfully, ultimately however it never crosses into offensive territory and remains just problematic comedic formula.
The familiar buddy movie formula follows the typically crafted structure; the two men learn from one another, become friends, face struggles within themselves and their environment. What makes this version fresh is the way they bond, via marijuana and deliberately starting police chases to name a couple of incidents. Among the somewhat ignored socioeconomic inequalities and clichéd events are these two central performances that really make this movie gold. I completely believed in the acting and felt like I was witnessing a deep, genuine connection. It is in what is not said as much as what is said, and I feel this subtlety is what some American critics have missed, and perhaps what made it so popular with the French. It avoids sentimentally and hits truer emotional notes in the process.
I was lucky enough to see this on French DVD months back but from merely writing my thoughts on the film I have decided I must see this in cinemas here before a shameful Hollywood remake appears (which is already in the works). It may have some cinema textbook flaws but with such compelling performances and fine dialogue it often transcends the rigid story we’ve seen over and over. Untouchable is probably the most feel-good film this year, and more so when during the credits we see photos of real-life quadriplegic Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his carer Abdel Sellou. Not just a fairytale.
Untouchable opens Friday in UK cinemas.