Driss (Omar Sy) is a black, street smart, petty criminal from Senegal. Philippe (Francios Cluzet) is a white, quadriplegic, patrician Frenchman. On the surface they could not be more different.
Driss is street savvy and left to his own devices to survive. Philippe is totally unable to fend for himself — he needs assistance in virtually every dimension of his life. “The Intouchables” (2011) explores this seeming dichotomy in a sweet, sensitive, humorous, and very uplifting, manner. When the film ends, and I must say that I hoped that it wouldn’t, you realize that these two men, and perhaps all of us, have more in common than meets the eye.
Omar Sy is a happy shade of a human being. He exudes charm and humor. Sy is a French (and soon to be international) superstar actor. Among other awards, he was selected “Meilleur (Best) Acteur” in the 2012 Cesar Awards for his portrayal of Driss. He was selected for the Cesar ahead of Jean Dujardin who won a Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role Oscar for “The Artist” (2011.)
Francois Cluzet is also a highly decorated performer having been nominated for seven acting Cesars and winning a Meilleur Acteur Cesar in 2007 for his role in “Tell No One” (2006.) He was also nominated for the Meilleur Actor Cesar in 2012 — the Cesar won by Sy.
“The Intouchables” opens with Driss seeking signatures signifying that he is actively seeking a job. He stumbles on a very formal interview for a caregiver position for Philippe. The interviews take place in a formal and elegant setting. The interviewees are well-dressed, formal, well prepared and very stuffy.
Driss cuts the queue and barges into the interview session being conducted by Magalie (Audrey Fleuot) with Philippe observing in the background from his motorized wheelchair.
While Driss does not behave rudely, he makes it clear that all he is after is Magalie’s signature on his unemployment insurance verification form. In the process, this totally natural and amiable “traveler” charms Philippe.
Philippe’s life is lived in the company of unimaginative, yet well-meaning, people — Driss is a polar opposite in the imagination department.
To Driss’ surprise he is offered a position for which he has no qualifications and even less interest. At heart, Driss is a hustler and sees short-term opportunity in the job. In the process of his ersatz interview he pockets (steals) a very valuable Faberge Egg sitting out in the elegant surroundings in which the interviews are taking place. This priceless objet d’art takes on added importance later in the story.
The film evolves artfully into a major transformation of Philippe and Driss. Philippe, while wealthy beyond imagination, has the most dreary of existences. While his every need is served by a caring and highly professional staff, his life is devoid of pleasure.
His paralysis is the result of hang-gliding accident — an activity which reflects his previous life of adventure. His first wife is dead and his existence is lifeless.
Driss also has no life. While he is able-bodied and street smart, he lives from hand-to-mouth and lacks purpose. But, Driss has what Philippe needs and Philippe has what Driss needs — they make one another whole.
“The Intouchables” is a love story of the highest order. You will laugh; you will cry you will be uplifted. Driss is cute beyond belief. Philippe, while paralyzed from the neck down, has a rakish glint in his eyes. He is ready for the adventure that his accident, and well-meaning supporters, have taken from him. Driss is a sponge ready to soak up the good that surrounds him and add his indomitable spirit to what appears to be Philippe’s hopeless condition.
As always, I will not share the wonderful turns that this delightful film takes. I can’t describe for you what you can better see and sense for yourself. While this film is essentially an “art house flick,” and will have limited theater distribution, it will be available on DVD soon. Trust me — see this wonderful film — you will be enriched for having done so.