Film Review: Untouchable (Les Intouchables) (2011)

When the words ‘based on a true story’, are combined with the film industry, it usually results in a slushy mess of emotions. However, it is quickly becoming Hollywood’s new sub-genre, Oscar winners (‘The Kings Speech’), getting-trapped-under-a-rock thrillers (‘127 Hours’) and cancer-comedies (‘50/50′), have all had some real-life experiences weaved into their tales, proving that some can escape the once dreaded tagline, and deliver a top film. ‘Untouchable’ is one of these films.

Taking the French and European box-office by storm, and sending global records tumbling, the film is a warm-hearted slice of excellent film-making. It’s a true comedy-drama, mish-mashing the genres stunningly, it makes you happy, laugh, sad, but has a heart of gold deep down. Some of its themes are strange, yet daring, earning it’s 15 rating, but still managing to stay within the realms of family entertainment, perhaps an indication of the casual French lifestyle, an explanation of its fantastic success overseas.

It focuses on a quadraplegic rich man and a new carer of his, the complete opposite, an immigrant with a dodgy past. The concept, or ones very similar, have been done to death, but the fresh twist of throwing disability into the mix, something not usually seen in any film, be it an arthouse flick, or a mainstream blockbuster nowadays, allows it to step out from the shadows of the rest. What we get is a fun 2 hour ride, that doesn’t seem to be on one set path, sub-plots waiver in and out of existence, but it pulls together at the end to create a satisfying and heart-warming conclusion, stereotypes and all!

The stand-out star is said immigrant carer, Driss, played by French comedian Omar Sy. He’s an enigma, with a very dry sense of humour, a fondness for 80’s dance music, drugs and is part of a massive family living in what appears to be a tiny flat in the Paris suburbs. Stereotype much? Despite said stereotypes, you never feel uncomfortable, it never sneers down at the lower-class Driss, his interests and his family and friends, they become as seemingly normal the more the film progresses, and by the end it is Philippe’s assorted middle-class family and friends who are the weirdos.

Driss’ in proceedings is at first to help him survive on a daily basis, mundane, yet vital tasks that the able-bodied take for granted. It’s in these scenes when the film first starts generating emotions that not many modern-day films can manage, sympathy and laughter in one swoop?! These feelings flit in and out of the plot, we don’t always feel sorry for ‘the one in the wheelchair’ or ‘the immigrant one’, we both like and dislike them for the people they are, showing us that noone is perfect, no matter their background or current state.

The film’s progression gives us more fun between the two as they truly bond and become inseperable. It is these scenes, where Driss gives Philippe his first drag on some marijuana, where Philippe takes Driss paragliding, that both matter to the other, not just Driss’ major importance to Philippe’s lifestyle. That paragliding scene is also one of the best I’ve seen in a cinema for a while, with ‘headcameras’ showing the joys of both characters, except you know it is the actor’s genuine joy too, as not many could stay in character at 10,000 feet!

I saw the film as part of a number of free showings to help get the buzz for it going, I’d have gladly paid, as it is a warm slice of cinema gold, one to make you (almost) cry and laugh a lot. Going back to the ‘based on a true story’ moniker it was dealt, the appearance of the real duo this film was indeed based on was brilliant, a shrewd move, that only added to the overall package and appeal. The best French film since ‘Amelie’, with the only real things holding it back are that it isn’t genre-defining cinema, an incredible story yes, but nothing out of the world, plus the stereotypes (whilst they didn’t for me) may drag for some audience members, the only reasons why I deducted a couple of marks.


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