Interview: Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano, ‘Untouchable’

Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano have been writing and directing films with each other since 1995. Their latest collaboration, French Oscar hopeful Untouchable (2011), has been a worldwide hit, breaking box office records and winning notable awards. The movie tells the story of the friendship between affluent paraplegic Philippe (François Cluzet) and his carer from the suburbs Driss (Omar Sy). Toledano and Nakache were in London to promote the film ahead of its UK release this week, and CineVue were on hand to quiz the directors on matters of disability, musical tastes and Hollywood remakes.

Untouchable is inspired by a true story, but whilst Philippe’s friend in real life is an Arab name Abdel, here his best friend is a black man from Senegal. The directors attribute the change to wanting to work with Sy: “It’s our third movie with him (Omar Sy). We made a short movie…and we knew that one day we would take him for a main character and when we discovered this story, it had Abdel. He’s not black, but we knew that it was a part for Omar”, says Toledano.

Looking at disability from a humorous perspective can be tricky on film, but Untouchable gets the tone just right. Nakache maintains that he and his co-director were aware of their limits regarding the humour, but that “this story interested us because of this because we can put a lot of comedy and Omar is a secret weapon for comedy”. Additionally, the director adds “For me, I like the scene when…Omar shaves François because for us, it’s exactly what we want to create in the movie. This balance, this mix is difficult to try and it’s like a roller coaster of emotions, like he said ‘just a cut and everything it’s over’ and after we want to take the audience and make [them] laugh”.

Laughing is something audiences will likely be doing a lot of in Untouchable, as there are plenty of humorous moments throughout. One memorable scene that comes to mind is when, after a series of classical music renditions such as Vivaldi, Driss decides to liven up Philippe’s birthday party whilst dancing to Boogie Wonderland. Toledano reveals that he and Nakache are very big fans of Earth, Wind and Fire. “We are very proud about one thing – whilst the band were on tour in France, on their posters are written, ‘The music of Untouchable'”.

The Weinstein Company having acquired the remake rights to Untouchable (with Colin Firth rumoured to be starring), but the directors will not be involved. Toledano states that “If I was the director of this movie, it will be a big challenge because we did a good job…But we are in a very good relationship with The Weinstein Company. They help us to have this huge success in the world so we have to respect the fact that if it seems like a good idea…that’s good for us and for them and we won’t be really involved. The movie that we love, we did”.

Untouchable is currently screening in UK cinemas nationwide now. Read our review here.

Amon Warmann