The Intouchables goes a long way toward answering that loaded question with a story of profound wisdom and restrained grace.
Philippe suffered a paragliding accident and is now confined to a wheelchair, paralyzed from “neck to toe.” He hires Driss, an immigrant slacker from Senegal, as his personal valet. Philippe is an affluent member of the cultural Parisian elite. Driss is a charming thug with a criminal record and a checkered domestic past.
They are a perfect match.
What Philippe wants more than anything is to have someone in his life who does not pity his circumstances. What Driss needs more than anything is to have someone in his life who expects more from him.
Philippe (Francois Cluzet) has convinced himself that his accident has left him not only unable to use his limbs, but unable to establish a physical romantic relationship after the death of his wife, a longing he wears on his sleeve.
“My real handicap isn’t being in a chair,” Philippe says to Driss. “It’s being without her.”
Driss (Omar Sy), in his wide-smiled blunt fashion, shatters that fear, constantly calling his boss out and cutting him no slack.
In return for his honest allegiance, Driss discovers an ability to paint; gains an appreciation for some (not all) classical music; and, most importantly, he learns a softer approach to solving his problems.
The Intouchables is a special film. It simultaneously makes us laugh and cry at our prejudices and self-inflicted limitations.
What I admired most about the script was its restraint. Writer-director tandem Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano’s film has so much going for it – definitely a home run in the casting of the two leads – that it could have easily gone down the path of attempting to solve race relations, class warfare, and world peace. But instead, it settles for simpler victories.
I kept expecting a scene in which Philippe blows up at Driss for not respecting his authority, for always pushing past his comfort zone. But not in this film. Thankfully.
I’ve always admired European films, especially the French, for their confidence in subtle storytelling. There’s a simplicity in their dissection of human complexity that is allowed to unfold without plot contrivance or unnecessary dialogue exposition that tends to bog down so many Hollywood pictures.
The subject matter under the microscope in this film is surely no laughing matter; but, unlike The Sea Inside or The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The Intouchables balances a beautifully light comedic touch alongside its heart ache.