Untouchable/ Intouchables

Fri, Sep 28, 2012, 01:00

Directed by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano. Starring François Cluzet, Omar Sy, Anne Le Ny 15A cert, limited release, 112 min

HE ONLY WANTS a signature to keep social welfare off his back. Senegalese émigré Driss (Omar Sy) has no intention of getting hired when he applies to be a live-in carer for millionaire paraplegic Philippe (François Cluzet). Following a disastrous interview – during which Driss flirts with the Parisian aristocrat’s foxy secretary and robs a Fabergé egg – no one is more surprised than he when the older man takes him on for a trial.

Slowly but surely, the two become friends. Driss introduces Philippe to marijuana, massage and Earth, Wind and Fire; Philippe, in turn, introduces art, classical music and paragliding.

By now you’ve likely heard of Untouchable, the biggest French success of 2011 and the biggest grossing non-English-language title of all time. Last year the culture clash comedy was voted the arts event of 2011 in France. It won by a landslide margin and will represent France at next year’s Oscars.

Anglophone territories have waited as Intouchables, to use its birth name, smashed records around the world, snaffling up $364.6 million and topping charts in Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Spain, Austria, Belgium and Italy.

Commentators have scratched their heads. How does a lightly comic buddy picture about an infirm poshie and his ghetto ex-con assistant, aided by minimal marketing, result in so many bottoms on seats? And with subtitles? And relatively unknown actors and directors? And with so many familiar hip-hop-goes-uptown moments? What sorcery is this?

The answer: old-fashioned word of mouth and irresistible dollops of smaltz.

Based on A Second Wind, Philippe Pozzo Di Borg’s chronicle of friendship with his former carer Abdel Sellou, Untouchable’s generally cheery trajectory unfolds as a series of big, punch-the-air, inspirational set pieces and earnest Shawshank Redemption-brand sentimentality.

The grain of the picture says urban drama but the lighting stays bouncy and bright. It’s not subtle. It’s not innovative. But it guarantees good humour, pranks, japes and welling-up for two hours.