Recently released from prison, ex-con Driss (Sy) interviews unenthusiastically for a job as live-in caregiver to wealthy quadriplegic entrepreneur Philippe (Cluzet). While Driss only applied in order to keep receiving welfare benefits, Philippe takes a liking to his brash, pitiless manner and hires him on a trial basis despite a complete lack of suitable qualifications. Though the two couldn’t be more different, they gradually form an unlikely bond…
Whilst a subtitled French-language movie about a paralysed aristocrat and a poor street-thug hardly sounds like an entertaining experience, Untouchable is a surprisingly likeable arthouse crowd-pleaser. A colossal hit in its native France, Les Intouchables (as its known there) is funnier than most comedies and more poignant than most dramas. Whilst some reviews have accused the movie of being emotionally manipulative (it’s not), co-directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano ensure that the humour and drama coexist seamlessly. Frequently laugh-out-loud funny and often genuinely moving, their buddy movie is easily among the best pictures of the year.
Despite being inspired by real events, the premise undoubtedly sounds like the recipe for a clichéd and overly-familiar melodrama. Indeed, given that we’re dealing with a friendship which blossoms in the face of a severe class divide and a servant-employee dynamic, one could draw obvious comparisons between the likes of Driving Miss Daisy and Scent Of A Woman (among others). But while there are a number of scenes which should feel broad (such as Driss purposefully pouring boiling water over Philippe’s unfeeling legs or when the former turns the latter’s stuffy birthday celebration into a funky dancefloor party), you end up smiling as Nakache and Toledano get away with it.
In addition to the groovy seventies tunes, one of the main reasons they do is the outstanding central performances from Omar Sy and Francois Cluzet. On the one hand, Sy combines intimidating volcanicity with top-drawer comic delivery and timing, while on the other Cluzet (who constantly reminds of Dustin Hoffman) gives a masterclass in how to convey a spectrum of emotions with just his face. Some reviews have criticised the ‘racist’ decision to have the poor, ex-con character as black and the rich, affluent one as white (as they’re both white in real life), but these two actors are perfectly cast and create a screen friendship which feels unusually convincing.
While on paper it sounds more like a clichéd melodrama than it does an entertaining experience, Untouchable is easily one of the best pictures of the year. Funnier than most comedies and more poignant than most dramas, it’s a hugely likeable arthouse crowd-pleaser.