THE INTOUCHABLES (2011), a French film written and directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, is a movie about friendship, and it’s this uncharacteristic relationship between a quadriplegic and his caregiver that makes this film rewarding.
Philippe (Francois Cluzet) is a quadriplegic millionaire, paralyzed from the neck down as the result of a paragliding accident. Driss (Omar Sy) is a bitter young man of African descent who’s content to collect unemployment benefits. When he arrives at the job interview for Philippe’s caregiver, he quickly announces that he’s only interested in obtaining a signature to prove he is actively looking for a job so he can collect his unemployment check.
In his present condition, Philippe is completely bored with his life. His only contacts are with his beautiful assistant Magalie (Audrey Fleurot) and his aide Yvonne (Anne Le Ny), and they have fallen into the same rut as Philippe. When Driss bursts into the interview, relaxed and full of spirit, flirting with Magalie, since he has no interest whatsoever in the position, his refreshing off the cuff attitude strikes a chord in Philippe.
To Driss’ surprise, he is hired to be Philippe’s caregiver on a trial basis. He says yes when he sees the rich plush conditions of the home in which he’ll be living. At first, Driss resists some of the duties, as he balks at helping Philippe with his bathroom needs and personal hygiene. But Driss can’t help being drawn into conversations with Philippe, as Philippe finds in Driss a refreshing alternative to his usual caregivers. Driss does not treat him with pity or extra compassion, but talks to him like he’s just one of the guys.
It’s the core of this friendship that drives this movie along. As the two men grow closer, they begin to share more intimacies about their lives. For example, in one of the movie’s funniest scenes, Driss asks Philippe if he can still make it with a woman, and Philippe tells him that he can’t in the traditional way since he’s paralyzed from the neck down. But, Philippe adds, the body has other erogenous zones, like the ears. Philippe adds with a laugh, “and I have two of them!”
Philippe also confides in Driss about a love letter relationship he has with a woman named Eleonore, who he has never met. Driss encourages him to take the relationship to the next level and meet her in person, something that so far Philippe has been too anxious to do.
When Philippe learns that Driss paints, he goes out of his way to find a buyer who might be interested in the young man’s work.
THE INTOUCHABLES tells a story about a unique friendship, a quadriplegic and his caregiver, but it’s the value of friendship, the way these two men get to know each other and like each other, that makes this story so enjoyable.
This friendship also extends to Driss and Philippe’s staff, especially Magalie and Yvonne. Driss’ personality is infectious, and he livens up the entire household. Driss and the older Yvonne share a sincere camaraderie, and it’s through his conversations with her that he learns a lot about both Driss and the household in general.
His relationship with Magalie is quite the different story. Driss is constantly flirting with her, and he can’t understand why she rebuffs his advances. During one scene, for instance, he invites her to take a bath with him in his elegant bathtub, and to his shock, she says yes, and starts to unbutton her blouse. As Driss undresses, she laughs and leaves. When Driss finally learns why she’s never been interested in him, it’s one of the more memorable parts of the movie.
The cast is flawless, driven of course by the two leads. Francois Cluzet is solid and earnest as Philippe. He comes off as a man trying to get on with his life in spite of his devastating accident. He accepts his condition and wants no sympathy. He simply desires to continue living, and Driss provides the spark which enables him to do this.
Omar Sy is excellent as Driss, and he gives the best performance in the film. Sy makes Driss such a lively, genuine, and ultimately very real person that you can’t help but like him. He made me completely understand and believe why Philippe was so taken with him.
Audrey Fleurot is alternately sexy and icy cold as Magalie, and I completely bought into Driss’ fascination with her, and Anne Le Ny is sweet and affable as Yvonne.
The meaning of the title THE INTOUCHABLES is open to debate, since it’s not mentioned in the movie, nor are there any clear references to the term. Before seeing the movie, I immediately thought of the lowly untouchables of India’s caste system, a group of people born into poverty and cruelly and unfairly shunned by the rest of society. I thought the term perhaps was going to refer to Driss, as seen through the eyes of Philippe, but Philippe is no racist, and he never treats Driss as an inferior person.
I believe the title refers to the fact that the friendship between Philippe and Driss is pure, that it’s above reproach, untouchable by those who question it or think less of it. For instance, at one point in the movie Philippe’s attorney warns him about hiring Driss because of his questionable background, but Philippe rejects this advice and tells his attorney that he doesn’t care about the man’s past.
THE INTOUCHABLES is a subtle heartwarming movie that tells a sincere and very likeable story. In this day and age in which people seem to be drifting more and more into lives of social isolation, communicating through the internet and social media as opposed to face to face interactions, its story of an unconventional friendship between two men is both satisfying and reassuring, in that the need for human contact and the respect, camaraderie, and dignity that goes along with it is a life-giving necessity.
Books by Michael Arruda:
TIME FRAME, science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.
FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.