Untouchable, based on a true story recounted in a book by Abdel Sellou, was a major event in France when it was first released, becoming the second most successful French film ever, and holding the number one spot at the box office for ten consecutive weeks. Its overseas release is presumably hoping to replicate the huge success of The Artist, and it’s probably only a matter of time until an American remake rears its head.
It tells the story of of Philippe (Francois Cluzet), a wealthy quadriplegic who needs constant care and attention on account of his condition. He hires Driss (Omar Sy), originally from Senegal, to the surprise of his other staff, as his new carer, even though Driss had no interest in the job and only wants Philippe to confirm he applied for the job so he can continue to get welfare benefit. Driss’ unorthodox style of looking after Philippe causes an immediate bond between the two, and they grow ever closer as time goes by.
Untouchable is a film which it’s very easy to be very cynical about. A wealthy white quadriplegic hires a poor, black, inner-city Parisian to help him, and as they become friends, each teaches the other important lessons about life, love etc. It’s the kind of film which gets branded, not necessarily unfairly, as award bait on account of its subject matter.
Award bait it may be, but for once, I was able to ignore the cynical side of me and just enjoy it for what it is. Its potential problems, for me at least, simply fail to materialise, partly because it manages to avoid coming across as patronising in the way that The Help did, but mostly because the two leads are great in their roles and it has a very strong script.
It’s apparent right from the start that Driss and Philippe are friends rather than simply employee and employer, and it’s this relationship dynamic which makes the characters likeable. Both Cluzet and Sy have a great deal of charm and an easy, thoroughly enjoyable chemistry without which the film’s central relationship, the most important part of it, wouldn’t have worked. Sy does a great job of showing Driss’ change from a man content to live on benefits to someone who genuinely cares for and wants to help Philippe; and Cluzet is likewise great as a man who is able to learn to enjoy his life again with the help of the enthusiastic young Driss.
They’re a joy to watch, effortlessly convincing the audience that these two truly are dear friends, and it’s the scenes where the two of them are joking around where the film is at its strongest: not only is the script very funny, but it’s also consistent, and only a couple of the jokes fall flat. The clash of cultures between Driss and Philippe provides a lot of the initial laughs, but if anything it becomes even funnier when each starts to act more like the other. Particular highlights include Driss’ surprisingly successful attempt at painting, and him trying out various styles of beard on Philippe while shaving him.
I was very surprised by how much I enjoyed Untouchable. Certainly it’s nothing revolutionary, and doesn’t do anything particularly new, but it does what it does so well that it feels churlish to find much fault with it. If you can put aside your cynicism for a couple of hours, it’s a warm and very funny film which you could do a lot worse than.