Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Film Club: Les Intouchables

It was long overdue, but I finally got around to watching the highly-recommended French film Les Intouchables this weekend. The film was known as The Intouchables in the US and Untouchable in the UK, supposedly to avoid having the same name as the 1987 film The Untouchables. While it has been out for nearly two years, I sadly never made the time to watch it, despite fervent recommendations from my French friends. That said, I couldn't be happier that I finally did.


Following its release in 2011, the film was a huge hit at the French box office, becoming its second biggest box office hit after Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis, which I would also highly recommend. However, the film is the highest-grossing French film shot in the French language since 1994.

The main premise of the film is somewhat based on the true story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and Abdel Sellou, his French-Algerian carer. If you've seen the film poster, DVD case, or the opening scene of the film, you may have noted that the directors decided that the caregiver would be played by Omar Sy, who is not French-Algerian but rather a French-Senegalese actor.

Whether or not you're disappointed by the lack of a French-Algerian lead, anyone who sees the film would have to admit that Sy does a great job alongside François Cluzet, who plays Philippe, an incredibly wealthy disabled man who employs Driss (Sy) as his caregiver.

While the premise is incredibly simple, the execution is what really caught my eye. We've seen plenty of films that show two people becoming unlikely friends despite their vastly different backgrounds. Les Intouchables seems comfortably familiar whilst throwing a few unexpected curve balls in the process.

Without giving too much away, the film is very funny, even for those who don't speak French. The English subtitling (at least the UK version) could easily be enjoyed by anyone who doesn't speak the French language, despite a few cultural changes that were a bit irksome. In one case, a reference to French unionist José Bové is changed to refer to Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, which is understandable as I can't imagine that many British viewers would be familiar with Bové.

Even though Les Intouchables never made any waves at the Oscars, it has quickly risen to the status of being one of my favourite French-language films, simply due to the way it manages to find a great balance between humour and emotion, leaving my sides sore from laughing and my face sore from the huge smile of uncontrollable happiness it left on my face.

In more worrying news, there may be an English remake on the cards. Hopefully it won't be as bad as Dinner for Schmucks, which managed to butcher the French classic comedy Le Dîner de Cons.