Connection Overcomes Handicaps in ‘The Intouchables’

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Average: 3 (2 votes) Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – One of the big movie hits in French cinema last year, “The Intouchables,” comes to our shores with a powerful and unusual redemption tale. The true story of a wealthy but quadriplegic man, and his poor but proud caregiver is the subject of a very compelling relationship.

The film flies on the performances of Francois Cluzet as the rich guy and newcomer Omar Sy as his attendant. The two have a terrific chemistry, especially in the quieter moments. Filmmakers Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano took some liberties with the real story, and in some instances the caregiver character is made to be more miraculous than his background, but overall they honor the unusual pairing with perspective on race, class, immigration and the sorrows of handicap. Represented are the overt physical limitations and the not-so-apparent psychological ones.

Philippe (Francois Cluzet) is a man of wealth in France. Rendered a quadriplegic after a para-gliding accident, he has gone through a series of primary caregivers that don’t gibe with his lust for life. Everything changes when an unusual applicant for the job named Driss (Omar Sy) crosses his path. Driss lives in the French housing projects, and is looking for a signature to collect unemployment. Philippe likes the candid immigrant’s brashness, and asks him to take the job on a trial basis.

Francois Cluzet (Philippe) and Omay Sy (Driss) in ‘The Intouchables’
Francois Cluzet (Philippe) and Omay Sy (Driss) in ‘The Intouchables’
Photo credit: Thierry Valletoux for The Weinstein Company

Everything goes well, and the trial turns into a permanent employment. Driss does not take any guff from his handicapped boss, and the employer is re-introduced to the life he wants through the unconventional care that Driss provides. The whole household is transformed by the presence of Driss, who starts to paint, learn to drive and go on adventures with Philippe that change both their lives.

The two leads are completely in sync with each other, and the film is energized through their relationship. Omar Sy is a force of nature, expressing the character through every pore. The backstory of Driss in the housing project is his most difficult acting moments, but when he’s on as the star of the household, he figuratively shines. Francois Cluzet, a recognizable French star (“Tell No One”), embodies the handicap of Philippe with a craftsman’s detail. He plays the character as ultimately insecure despite his material wealth, and his capitulation to Driss is part of the healing process from his condition.

The themes within the film, as the opposing characters represent the larger world and conditions they face, are openly and intuitvely drawn by the co-directors Nakache and Toledano. It becomes obvious that the outgoing Driss is hiding his true nature, and the need that Philippe has goes far beyond his physical problems. As the men spar and connect, they slowly are helping each other become whole, beyond the wheelchair and the man hired to push it.

There are some terrific stylistic touches that make the film resonate. The use of music is important, and Driss’s love of the band Earth, Wind and Fire is cause for several celebrations, including the fantastic opening credits. The mystery of the beginning sequence after those credits is solved later in the film, and the realization of that solution brings a certain warmth and a coming to fruition within the relationship. It is a core moment in the film, and a natural evolution to where the disparate individuals will end up.

Anne Ke Ny (Yvonne) is Out of Her Shell with Francois Cluzet and Omay Sy in ‘The Intouchables’
Anne Ke Ny (Yvonne) is Out of Her Shell with Francois Cluzet and Omay Sy in ‘The Intouchables’
Photo credit: Thierry Valletoux for The Weinstein Company

In Omar Sy’s large performance, there was a tendency to make Driss a bit too much. HIs flirtations and discoveries of art seemed forced, and the automatic wisdom that is imparted upon him by the rest of the household staff doesn’t ring true with the rest of his portrayal. The more he goes outside his perceived life as a boy from the wrong side of the tracks, the more the character gets off track. This is a minor part of the film, but unfortunately notable.

But it is the joy of the two men, creating self-discovery, that is the centerpiece of this based-on-truth story. The unique story proves that there are no true handicaps, only the restraints that we choose to put upon ourselves.

“The Intouchables” continues its limited release in Chicago on June 1st. See local listings for theaters and show times. Featuring Francois Cluzet, Omar Sy, Anne Le Ny, Audrey Fleurot, Clothilde Mollet and Alba Gaia Bellugi. Written and directed by Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache. Rated “R” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2012 Patrick McDonald,

Manny be down's picture


WOW what a gr8 movie very touching close to home I love the way they became good friends in the end

ziggy one of the best's picture


Great movie its’ show a lot of love with these people

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