Cast:Francois Cluzet, Omar Sy
Director:Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano
Indian Express Ratings:***1/2
This critically and commercially successful French film about a wealthy White quadriplegic and the friendship he strikes with his homeless Black caregiver has drawn criticism for being "ingratiating" in its portrayal of race. The Intouchables does look and sound familiar — the rich Philippe (Cluzet) is uptight with a limited exposure to life and a dubious taste in modern art; the "man from the projects", Driss (Sy), smokes weed, is an ex-con, loves funky music, and is irreverent and an outrageous flirt.
You know how the film will go and you almost know how it will end. However, based on a true story, here's where The Intouchables departs from what have been dubbed the 'Magical Negro (the Black man with a golden heart)' American movies. Philippe and Driss do not hotfoot around each other, overly careful about not hurting the other, and Driss is downright cruel at times, not meaning to be hurtful but joking like he would with any other friend. As Philippe, who is paralysed neck down, says, "He sometimes tries to hand me the phone... He forgets! Do you realise that? He actually forgets!"
Driss also has a life, even if it's the usual Senegalese migrant's life, outside Philippe's ultra-luxurious mansion, and while awed at the difference between the apartment he lived in and Philippe's home, Driss is not intimidated by it.
Unlike a Hollywood film, The Intouchables also treats disability not with an averted, embarrassed gaze but looks at it head-on. Given the array of help at Philippe's disposal, he has the support he needs and the film treats this matter-of-factly.
It's not surprising that the film has been lapped up by audiences in France at a time when cultural differences are coming to the fore in a country that prided itself for its social integration, sneeringly believing race tensions to be a legacy of America. It's not surprising again that to France's amazement, US critics have viewed the Philippe-Driss interaction through the prism of their own movie and historical experience, as underlining racial stereotypes while pretending to rise above them.
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