There is always the feeling that watching a foreign film is something of a burden and not necessarily because you have to read the dialogue, but because it can be stressful to make sure you catch every bit of dialogue and that you can read fast enough before the subtitles are removed or changed. It is a tension filled viewing experience that creates more a sigh of relief when the film comes to an end rather than a fresh perspective on whether you actually enjoyed the content of the film or not. That is the mindset that I always seem to approach foreign language films with whether I want to or not and The Intouchables, a film I'd heard so much about and wanted to see for a long time now fit that description all the same as I finally had the chance to settle in and watch it. As soon as the film began though, that feeling of slight tension was eased as even in those opening moments the film was not only much more light-hearted than I imagined it would be, but it also didn't contain any dialogue to keep up with for those first few minutes and instead immediately introduced us to the characters and gave us a quick glimpse of who they were without saying a word. Based on a true story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his caregiver Abdel Sellou that was discovered by directors Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano upon seeing the pair in a documentary, A la vie, à la mort. The film is the second biggest box office hit in France and became a rather big deal in its native country in 2011 while hitting the states in the summer months last year and creating a good amount of waves here as well, the film is a charming look at an odd couple, the clashing of two worlds and the cultural differences that define us but sometimes bring us together. It is essentially a buddy comedy, but it has heart and I dare you to try and not enjoy yourself as you watch it.

Philippe (Francois Cluzet) and Driss (Omar Sy) form an uncommon bond.
That aforementioned opening is a glimpse not only at who these characters are, but of what friends they have become, cohorts even as they parade around Paris in their fast car and use Philippe's (Francois Cluzet) disability to get themselves out of a tough spot. It is a pleasantly surprising take on what could have easily started out just as droll and unpleasant as the quadriplegic lifestyle that Philippe leads. From that point we are then given the beginnings of the story of their friendship in flashback. It is apparent that Philippe's disability makes him difficult to care for. He is unable to feel anything or move any limbs at his own will from the neck down and so he goes through caretakers quite frequently. That is until the day we first meet Driss (Omar Sy) as he is interviewing for jobs that he expects will reject him just so that he might gather the necessary proof to get his welfare benefits. It is clear Philippe is intrigued by the man though as he has no regard for him or his situation, rather he simply addresses Philippe's state as being unfortunate in so many words. Philippe informs Drill he'll have to return the next day to get his signed form, and when he does return he learns he is on a two week trial period as a live-in caregiver. Driss is not accustomed to the lavish lifestyle with which Philippe lives, but takes full advantage of the open space and his personal bathroom that was all but wishful thinking in his mothers small, compact apartment. The film plays out as one might expect as the two men grow closer but not because they bond over a certain aspect of life or anything typical in that fashion. In fact, the two have very few things in common; their taste in music, their approach to women, their hobbies all find the two of them butting heads in how they like to handle things and how Philippe would like Driss to handle things for him. What Philippe sees in Driss though is a man who takes no pity on him.

What is important about this film though, no matter how predictable it may turn out to be is not the story and the plot points that need to be made, but if it captured the spirit of the relationship or not. If the audience wasn't in tune with why these two men from drastically different backgrounds could find common ground and form a bond that would transcend all of that then there would be no chemistry to the film, no point in telling the story in the first place. It is with great help from both Cluzet and Sy that this works so well as each of their performances is charming and have the ability to place us in each of their characters roles with justifications and solid motivations for why they do the things they do. Without being too conventional with these character types the film allows us to forgive the basic set up while diving into the depths of the friendship here and ultimately defining how, as human beings, we aren't all that different when it comes down to the things we all need and ultimately want to feel a completeness to life. The initial way in which Cluzet plays up Philippe's reaction to Driss and his lack of filter or forgiveness to those that are clearly at a different social rank than he is impressive and it is priceless the way his face breaks into a smile as Driss tries to understand how such luxuries could even exist when what he sees everyday is people simply trying to get by at the most basic levels.  Cluzet does what he can with the role as he is required to give everything the character needs from his facial expressions and vocal inflections, but as Driss Sy is a revelation and it is no wonder he is already racking up roles in major Hollywood films. He makes Driss not someone who we question as viewers or we we hope won't make the wrong choice and take advantage of his given opportunity, but instead we see him as a man with soul who just needs the right avenues to express it. In a word Driss is refreshing.

Omar Sy and Francois Cluzet in The Intouchables.
Neither of the characters play into types though and the chemistry that has been committed to screen here is not to be taken for granted. Though many American mainstream movie-goers would likely dismiss this as something to artsy or highfalutin simply based on the fact it comes from France and with subtitles the film couldn't feel more like a mainstream romantic comedy of sorts with an odd couple vibe at the center. This isn't that high art form that only a certain community of academics will understand, but it is simply a feel good movie that actually makes you feel good. As the film continued on I began to wonder if the light take on the subject matter was somewhat misrepresented of the condition with which Philippe had to suffer. Sure, Driss brought out the better sides of life for him and pushed him to do things, go after certain things that no one else would have had the gall to tell him to do, but did this completely fill in for the things and shortcomings Philippe would forever have to deal with. Granted, there is no positive outcome for that storyline, but I couldn't help but want to know more about the thoughts and unique perspective of the world that Philippe had come to realize as he was placed in this position of extreme frailty after an accident. He once knew the freedoms of being well, but besides a sub-story about his deceased wife there is not much room for remorse with his character and it seems inevitable that this would be the only source of grief for a man who seemingly could do anything he wanted but is stuck forever on the reliance of those around him. While there could certainly be more of a downer side that this film doesn't expose it is also nice to see a film with such tragic source material put such a positive spin on it. You can't have it every way you want it and the filmmakers chose wisely here delivering a film ripe with honesty and genuine human emotion.


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