Having won a handful of prestigious awards and broken box office records across the globe, French Oscar entry Untouchable (The Intouchables, 2011) finally gets its UK release this week. Directed by Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache and inspired by a true story, this French dramatic-comedy tells the story of the unlikely friendship between disabled millionaire Philippe (François Cluzet) and his outspoken ex-con carer Driss (Omar Sy). It soon becomes clear that almost every bit of Untouchable’s international praise is justified.
A paragliding accident has left the wealthy Philippe a paraplegic, unable to move or feel anything from the neck down. Philippe needs to hire carers to attend to his physical needs, but he soon grows tired of their pitying. When the fast-talking, brutally honest Driss shows up for an interview, Philippe sees someone he’s able to converse and trade jokes with, and an unlikely friendship is kindled.
It admittedly takes a while for the film to catch up to the attention-grabbing opening – which sees Driss and Philippe evade police capture in amusing fashion – but the manner in which the steadily burgeoning relationship plays out ensures our focus never wavers. Despite the physical limitations of the role, Cluzet is incredibly expressive throughout whether he be portraying a jaded or cheerful Philippe. But this is Sy’s movie; the actor won a Cesar Award (the French equivalent of the Oscars) for the role and his bubbly charisma and energy is infectious from the outset.
The actors are aided by a humorous script, which highlights the characters’ differing backgrounds at every opportunity. The culture clash shtick is nothing new – Untouchable has already been likened to films like 198 Oscar winner Driving Miss Daisy – but seldom has it been this funny, and Philippe and Driss’ opposing perspectives on music, opera and art produce many a laugh-out-loud moment. Amidst the gags, there is still plenty of time for the improbable pair to learn important life lessons as their platonic friendship grows.
Admittedly, Untouchable’s script doesn’t always hit the mark. A needless comparison with Obama has good intentions but is just one example of the race issue being dealt with flimsily, and as compelling as the story is, there’s no denying its predictability. However, it’s easy to make allowances when the two leads are this engaging. Furthermore, with a story such as this one, it would have been easy for the filmmakers to go down a more melancholy route, but thankfully the tone rarely shifts too far away from its default setting of light-hearted comedy.