The most well-known poster for The Intouchables is a close-up face shot of the two main characters, Driss and Philippe. It is an image of one middle-aged white man, Philippe, dressed in suit with an ascot, smiling and a younger, darker man, Driss, wearing a green sweatshirt standing behind him with all his pearly whites showing. They both look at the camera with twinkling eyes. However, the difference in their skin color is straightforward to the point that one may think that this could be just another movie about a white person being the hero to save the black person. But directors Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache portray their relationship that stays away from any racial themes that most movies would use. This French comedy-drama involves Driss (Omar Sy) and Philippe (François Clozet) in forming a unique and eccentric relationship as a caretaker and his patient. It all starts with their encounter.
Philippe is a rich aristocrat who lives in a luxurious mansion somewhere in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Paris. Not all things seemed well for him as he lives as a quadriplegic man, paralyzed head down due to a paragliding accident. He meets Driss, who, in contrast, lives on the other side of the economic spectrum as an adopted child from Senegal and an ex-convict. The film starts with him picking applicants for the position as his caretaker and Driss barges in with such an impatient and rude stride and a straightforward craziness that Philippe unexpectedly picks him. Even though he lacks in experience in caretaking and moral ethics, Driss moves in and soon learns how to look after the wealthy man unreservedly, physically and emotionally. The film encompasses the irreplaceable friendship between the two and the dynamic course their lives take as the two paths converge into one.
The story hinges on the captivating and humorous performances by Omar Sy and François Clozet, the melodies of Ludovico Einaudi, and the use of contrasting imageries to portray the setting and the two characters. Toledano and Nakache also pay attention to an accurate presentation of the true story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and caregiver Abdel Sellou. However, these are two entirely different characters coming from different social backgrounds. It raises the question if this would be just another movie about the minority being assisted by a white character. Films like The Soloist (2009), The Blind Side (2009), The Help (2011), Lincoln (2012), have been criticized of using the “White Savior” trope as a plot (Sirota). The trope portrays a minority, commonly of African-American or African descent, raised up from their economic and social misfortune by a white, well-off character. In this case, Driss may seem as the charity case of this rich millionaire. The Untouchables tackles this idea and refutes it. The film is not about the clash of racial difference to result achievements accredited to the “White Savior”. It is about a relationship that changed Driss and Philippe’s perspectives of life and all it took was for them to open their eyes a little wider to see what they can do together to look at life another way.
Omar Sy brings a compelling performance as an ex-convict from the banlieuesof French society. Banlieues are low-end economic residence projects, housing French immigrants and minorities. Sy knows the experience firsthand as he himself grew in thebanlieues, a town in the south of Paris called Trappes (Beardsley). He is a well-known comedian, donning a reputation for his playful smile and witty jokes. He brings this personality in the creation of Driss. Behind the six-foot-four guy with a brooding glare and the heavy stance, is a man full of rude and insensitive comments—laughs and gags—anything to get him through another day in the projects. That same insensitivity that may be unattractive to most people, convinces Philippe that Driss would be the right man to be the job. Driss is the one that sees beyond his quadriplegic appearance. His outstanding acting is worth the César award that he received for Best Actor (Beardsley), which is the French equivalent of an Academy Award. With such a lively smile, he meets Philippe, brilliantly played by Clozet. Clozet brings an edge to Philippe that contrasts the playful manner of Driss. He does a gripping job of showing Philippe’s emotions without the use of normal human gestures. Clozet allows viewers to feel how it must be quadriplegic, how it must be paralyzed head down using minute movements of the face. He shows sadness through slow, intermittent blinks of the eyes, anger through the clench of his jaws, and happiness through a slight twitch of the mouth. He brings life to man who does not feel pain physically and show a man heartbroken inside. Sy and Clozet together bring an impressive, exceptional performance. Combining these two talents helps create a gradual growth of a precious and dramatic friendship.
The dramatic atmosphere of this film is appropriately accompanied by Ludovico Einaudi’s compositions, “Fly” and “Una Mattina”. The pieces were elegantly used in the most poignant parts of the film: the beginning and the end. “Fly” plays in a crescendo as the first scene of Driss and Philippe going for a nightly drive, fades in. The chords are played quietly and slowly to give the image that all beginnings are slow. Then it gradually picks up the pace into a more stumbling motion, keys jumping over each other, growing louder and higher. This melody depicts the slow beginnings of both Driss and Philippe as they tiptoe into their opposite lives. The stumbling, fast part of the song symbolizes their own personal tragedies before their encounter, how Driss struggles as a thief and a thug and Philippe losing his body and his wife. Then the music becomes higher, yet more stable; each note more distinct and clear to display their own progress as changed individuals and special comrades. It was as if they flew to a better place after meeting each other. The other composition, “Una Mattina” is played in the end as Driss happily leaves Philippe in a lunch with a date. The title that means, “One Morning” sends the message that together, Driss and Philippe can start a new beginning after all their hardships. The melody plays with a relieving tone, as if someone exhaled all the worries and doubts away, replacing it with a breath of a fresh start. The music gives a calming end to the movie, ending with a lighter tone than how it started. Driss and Philippe both had a rough start and it is their friendship that allowed more happiness into their lives.
There is constant use of light and dark in this film. There is a sense of contrast throughout the film in setting, art and music. Two lives that seemed not to touch live in an equal share of darkness and light. Two entirely different cultures clash and show that not one is better than the other. Philippe’s mansion is rendered to be lavishly decorated and ornate with warm colors. Classical music plays in the background along with Baroque decorations and classical paintings that cover the walls and glass panes brought more light in. In contrast, Driss’ neighborhood is filled with muted colors with bluish undertones. There is no modern or classical art but graffiti on public spaces and instead of classical music, R&B and soul music thumped in Driss’ headphones. One may think that Toledano and Nakache arranged this purposely to show the misfortune of those who lived in the projects. But they show the misfortune in both lives.
For Philippe, he is a man who seemed like he has everything… has nothing. Without the use of his body, he can’t walk, he can’t run, he can’t look after his daughter, he can’t drive, he can’t love. He also holds on the pain of losing his wife to cancer and he describes it as his “true disability” (The Intouchables). Driss, on the other hand, has no ambition for life after getting out of prison. Even his family gives up on him. Humiliation and misfortune has no prejudice and with that similarity, the two men unite under one roof to see life in other light beyond the darkness they have been living in. As said in the film, Philippe sees that Driss is someone who holds no pity for him; Driss states, “I don’t empty anyone’s ass on principle” (The Intouchables) and Philippe reciprocate that feeling the same way it is given to him. He doesn’t feel sorry for Driss either but instead uses him as an example. Philippe follows Driss’ footsteps sees his life is still worth living after all his misfortune. As someone who comes from the banlieues, one just has to keep moving forward no matter and Philippe puts himself on that path. Driss, on the other hand, learns from Philippe to look after the people he cares about the most, his family and friends. He starts to appreciate the finer details in life and create an ambition to do better for himself and his family. Both their lives becomes brighter and clearer as they travel their journey together. This film did not exude controversial vibes. It only focused on their relationship and the education they received from each other. There is no one hero nor is one saved. This is a story where both characters are losers and the winners.
This inspiring story is based on the true of story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and Abdel Sellou. It warms the heart that such a touching story was derived from real events and a real relationship (Farndale). The sharp contrasts between the two would appear to be unimaginable but it is with those differences that makes a perfect pair. Driss and Philippe may be untouchable to other people, but in the end, all they needed was a simple touch from each other. It is their encounter and journey together that changes everything, accompanied by memorable acting and dramatic cinematography—leaves an unforgettable, heartwarming film for everyone to enjoy.
Beardsley, Eleanor. "A Star Rises From An Oft-Neglected Place." NPR. NPR, 28 June 2012.Web. 15 Feb. 2014.
Farndale, Nigel. "Untouchable: The True Story That Inspired a Box Office Hit." The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 05 Sept. 2012. Web. 15 Feb. 2014.
Sirota, David. "Oscar Loves a White Savior." Salon.com RSS. Salon Media Group Inc., 21 Feb. 2013. Web. 21 Feb. 2014.
The Untouchables. Dir. Eric Toledano, Olivier Nakache. Perf. Omar Sy, Francois Clozet. 2011. Film.