Sunday, June 10, 2012

Inchanting Intouchables

I had the pleasure of attending a screening of the French film The Intouchables the other night. I had never heard of the film prior to the screening save for a brief plot summary on a couple of hours beforehand, but I was intrigued.

I absolutely adored this movie. It is heartwarming without being cheesy, and similar to Love Actually, makes me cry, laugh, beam with happiness, and leaves me with an overall positive outlook on life.

Francois Cluzet plays Phillipe, a widowed aristocrat paralyzed from the neck down who is searching for a new caretaker. Omar Sy plays Driss, a guy from the projects who meets Phillippe when he goes to interview for the caretaker position in order to get a signature for his unemployment benefits. Phillippe likes Driss's frankness and carefree demeanor since it's a refreshing change from the stiff, uptight nurses he'd interviewed before. Driss becomes his live-in caretaker and they form a close friendship that expands both of their horizons and opens them to new experiences that they wouldn't have had the courage to experience otherwise.

It is a classic scenario of the straight man paired with the joker. Driss is the joker and Phillipe is the straight man off whom to bounce gags. The combination of Omar Sy and Francoise Cluzet is an example of perfect casting. They play off each other really well. Cluzet's smirks and restrained laughter to Sy's antics keep the relationship grounded and realistic.

What I find the most charming about this film is how heartwarming it is without crossing the line into contrived sentimentality. For example, there is a scene in which Driss sits through a classical music concert with Phillipe and identifies the pieces through commercials or cartoons and then plays Earth, Wind and Fire to liven the party. Had it been a scene in an American film, it would have played as schmaltzy and groan-worthy: Driss is dancing around and getting everyone in the room to dance with him and he has a huge smile on his face as he tries to get Philippe to enjoy the music. Somehow, it was not cheesy in this film. The French are able to pull off heartwarming, silly moments without inducing gagging because they don't oversell the moment. They trust the material, play it for what it is and let the content speak for itself. As a result, the scene was celebratory and a nice moment in the movie.

The main fault I found with the film was the use of exposition at the end to sum up the lives of the characters. It immediately took me out of the film. I was simply enjoying the film in a narrative context so once they put up captions and pictures of the real people, I was zapped back to reality. I hate to say it, but it ruined the movie a little bit. They should have ended the movie after the last scene and omited the captions and pictures. Films can tell a true story without referencing the real people. In an age where audiences don't simply watch a film but also research the backstory on websites and blogs, information and pictures about the real people could have been set aside for those venues instead of capping the film.

Be that as it may, the performances are wonderful and the movie is inspiring and worth a viewing. It is a great example of not allowing any kind of emotional or physical handicaps prevent you from taking a chance at living life to its fullest. Go see it if you get the chance.

The Intouchables is written and directed by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano and stars Francois Cluzet and César-winning Omar Sy. It is currently playing in Los Angeles at The Landmark Theater and Arclight Hollywood.

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