‘The Intouchables’ is filmmaking at its finest

Omar Sy and Francois Cluzet in 'The Intouchables'
Omar Sy and Francois Cluzet in ‘The Intouchables’

“Based on a true story.”

Whenever a film starts with this as part of the opening credits, they might as well say “we’ve changed at least one major element of the true story our movie is based on.”

Fortunately, this time that change doesn’t alter how wonderful and inspiring The Intouchables is.

Best described as a feel-good dramatic comedy, The Intouchables is the story of Philippe (Cluzet) who is a wealthy man, but is a quadraplegic (tetraplegic if you prefer) who lives in a lovely mansion with his teen daughter, several servants, but being his physical caretaker is a position no one has lasted at for very long.

It is also the story of Driss (Sy), who just spent six months in prison, and has no interest in actually getting the job as caretaker.  He is only there because he needs three signatures on his form saying he’s applied for and turned down positions in order to get his welfare benefit.  Tired of waiting, when someone else’s turn comes, he storms to the front of the line and enters the room where Philippe and his assistant Magalie (Fleurot) are conducting the interviews.  Philippe refuses to sign the paper, telling Driss to leave it and to return the following morning at 9 a.m., to get it.  Although he’s already late in turning in the paper, Driss has no choice and leaves.  When he returns home, for the first time in six months, he manages to get in a bath before being given the boot by his aunt.

Omar Sy (l.) and Francois Cluzet co-star in 'The Intouchables'
Omar Sy (l.) and Francois Cluzet co-star in ‘The Intouchables’

He returns to the mansion of Philippe the following morning and to his surprise, Philippe’s other assistant, Yvonee (Ny) starts showing him around and explaining his duties.  He only wants the signature at first, but when he sees the size of the room and private bath that come with the job, he decides he can take it.  At least for a little while.

Driss is not trained to be a caretaker, but he is strong and a fast learner.  Of things he wants to learn.  He grudgingly agrees to dress Philippe, even in garments he feels are inappropriate for a male, but when it comes to helping Philippe deal with a particular bodily function, he refuses.  “I’m not emptying the ass of a guy I don’t know.  Or even a guy I do know.  I don’t empty anyone’s ass on principle.”

Clearly he’s not the ideal employee in most people’s minds.  He flirts shamelessly and relentlessly with Magalie.  He pours very hot water on Philippe’s legs in an experiment to see if he really is without feeling below the waist.  He goes out of his way to piss off Philippe’s daughter, who isn’t happy with much of anything anyway.  But when he sees the neighbor blocking the driveway as he is about to take Philippe out in Philippe’s sports car, his solution for convincing that neighbor to never again block this space convinces Philippe that he’s made the right hire.

This film took only 9 weeks to become the most successful French film ever, without the benefit of U.S. box office, amassing over $300 million in receipts before opening here.  Better still, thanks to the involvement of the real Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, 5% of the film’s profits are going to a French charity that helps invalids.

Okay, so what was that one big change from the “true story” to the film version.  In the real story, it was a North African, an Arab, and not a Senaglese, not a Black that the real Philippe hired.  But that change doesn’t impact the way the film managed to capture how the men truly bonded.  I won’t tell you more about that, other than to say that they remain close, to this very day.  Oh, and the film doesn’t explain how Philippe was injured.  But if you saw the trailer, you saw he and Driss doing the very thing that put Philippe into that wheelchair.

But don’t let charitable reasons or success be why you choose to go see The Intouchables.  It’s one of the best films out thus far this year and worthy of the investment of time and money.

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