It’s very possible that you’ve heard about Untouchable (Les Intouchables). Swept up for worldwide release by the lucrative distributors The Weinstein Company (those two meddling American brothers who accosted The Artist, no less) this French film has become the highest-grossing non-English language film of all time. It’s also been selected by the French National Cinema Centre to represent the nation at next year’s Academy Awards. Filled with glee and skirting around some weighty societal issues, it has “Oscar-bait” written all over it, but is it any good? No, not really. It’s pap.
Based on a true story, Untouchable is a treacled-up spin on the classic odd-couple comedy drama, sitting uncomfortably between Driving Miss Daisy and Scent of a Woman.
Philippe (Francois Cluzet) is a multi-millionaire aristocrat handicapped from the neck down after a near-fatal paragliding accident. He impetuously hires Driss (Omar Sy), a boisterous French-Senegalese ex-con with no qualifications, experience or manners to be his unsympathetic live-in carer.
Very quickly, they’re clinical relationship blossoms into a “conventionally unconventional” friendship which sees them exploring the world anew. For Driss, his once aimless life is given some decree of responsibility as carer; moving out of the gritty suburbs he is plonked into Philippe’s inner-city mansion, with all the decadent trimmings such a life entails. And Philippe, embracing Driss’ sense of rebellion, quashes any pity thrown his way and ventures into a life of midnight bars and marijuana smoking.
Schmaltzy and stinking of unearned profundity, the only reason Untouchable works is the central performances. Sy, the Cesar Best Actor award winner, has an effusive personality and million-Euro smile, while Cluzet (a doppelgänger for Dustin Hoffman) provides a deft, counterbalancing quiet charm in the physically constrictive role. They make for a dynamic duo, even with the queasy, archaic material – stuffy, rich white man seeks down and out “magical negro” carer who likes to womanise and shake hips to the groovy sounds of Earth, Wind & Fire. Yes, that actually happens. In 2012.
Painted with such broad strokes, writer/director duo Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano tell a glossy story about how friendship bridges all conflicting cultural and societal gaps. A worthy premise, but the pair forget to tackle those implicit frictions of the unlikely pairing. “Based on a true story” it may be, but I’m sure the real life account would have been more interesting.