The Intouchables



Paul: The Intouchables is a French film that came out in 2011. It’s an inspirational comedy-drama about a rich white quadriplegic and the working class black man who takes care of him. The film was the box office champion of its home country in 2011, and also made $10 million over here, which is pretty good for a foreign language film. Now that I’ve seen The Intouchables, I can understand why it did so well. This is a very crowd-pleasing story about moving on with your life after a tragedy, living with disability, and learning to see life from a different point of view. It also touches on themes of class and race, making the hopeful assertion that people who seem completely different can still become close friends.

I haven’t seen Driving Miss Daisy or The Bucket List, but in the little reading I’ve done about The Intouchables, those are the two movies mentioned the most. The comparison isn’t a flattering one, since those movies don’t have particularly good reputations. If you’ve seen them, Daniel, how does The Intouchables compare? If not, what did you think of the film on its own terms?


Daniel: Oddly enough, I haven’t seen either of those films. Watching the film it felt very familiar, which I’m sure is due to the vast number of feel good movies out there that seek to show how life from another point of view can add value to your own. The movie certainly fit that bill, and I genuinely enjoyed it, but I don’t know if I necessarily loved it. The cinematography was beautiful and I thought the constant use of music to set individual scenes was well thought out and put to great use. The movie made quick work in contrasting its two main characters. They are quite literally opposites in just about every way. I found this fun; I loved the scene where Driss bursts into the interview demanding a signature on his application so that he can collect his unemployment money, and I love Philippe’s response when he instead hires him. It’s a sappy movie, there is absolutely no denying that, and I know much of it is an exaggeration of the true events that it claims to be based on, but it was enjoyable, albeit a little clichéd at times. What was your general opinion of the film?


Paul: This is, generally speaking, a nice movie, but I think that’s the highest praise I can give it. I tend to get annoyed with the “feel good” genre. I think it panders to the audience in a genuinely insidious way. That said, there are a lot of worse examples out there than this film. The scene you mention, with the signature, is a good introduction to the characters (I wish it wasn’t a flashback), but unfortunately it’s preceded by a little montage of other applicants for the caretaker position, in which the film makes its points about how disabled people don’t want to be pitied. That montage is just a bunch of cheap shots meant to set up Driss as a character through contrast — since he doesn’t want the job, he’s the one who gets it. My main criticism of that sequence, and the movie as a whole, is that while it’s clearly intended to play as comedy, I just didn’t find it that funny. So much of the humor is built on cliché, playing up the culture clash in pretty obvious ways. The funniest moment, for me, happens in a later scene, when Driss makes a whole row of people move one chair over so he can sit next to a woman he intends to woo. It’s not the action itself that’s so funny, but the second or two when the camera lingers on the poor woman at the end of the row who’s suddenly left without a seat. This is not to say that Omar Sy, who plays Driss, is the problem. His relationship with Philippe, played by François Cluzet, is definitely believable. What did you think of the performances?

Daniel: The performances were one of the better attributes of the film. The chemistry between Driss and Philippe was my favorite aspect; it allowed for a complete arc between how the two characters viewed each other. The supporting cast was filled with relatable and believable individuals that served the story and the movie as a whole to the best of their ability. I thought Driss was a little over the top at times, but on the whole I thought the entire cast presented their roles very well. You’re absolutely right, there just isn’t a way around the clichéd nature of the movie. It managed to present itself as a cinematic triumph, and it genuinely made me feel good, but what the story delivers is little more than a dressed up Hallmark Channel original. Arguably filmmakers battle cliché, as if it were a festering disease that only served to decay the purity of the art form. However, cliché becomes cliché because of familiarity, it is recognizable, predictable and sometimes very well loved. While in my book, the movie was entertaining, but nothing spectacular, there are many that stand by it as a fantastic heart-felt movie. Overlooking the flaws of the film, was there a particular attribute that really excelled the film beyond what you might have been expecting?


Paul: I also liked the music, but unfortunately I can’t say that this movie exceeded my expectations. This reminds me of Joe Wright’s The Soloist, which is a movie that’s at least a little bit in the same vein as this one. I ended up liking The Soloist a little more than I expected thanks to Wright’s virtuoso use of the camera. One sequence in particular stands out from the rest of that movie, and in fact puts it on hold: a Fantasia-esque dance of colors as Jamie Foxx’s character listens to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. This comparison is a bit unfair since that character is a musician, but I didn’t really like how many times The Intouchables reiterates the disdain Driss has for high art. It’s another cliché (“That painting is just random splotches of color; even I could do that”), but, more importantly, it’s populist pandering. I thought Driss might be coming around when Philippe has a little ensemble perform samples of classical pieces for him, but all he does is recognize music from commercials. Irreverence is one thing — art can actually be quite welcoming to an irreverent approach, especially modern art — but smug dismissal is another. Maybe I’m just sore because Driss isn’t moved by Vivaldi. Vivaldi is the greatest. What were some other entertaining moments that stand out for you?


Daniel: I really enjoyed the opening scene where the two lead the police on a high speed chase only to convince them to give them an escort to the hospital. I wasn’t a fan of starting the movie with the scene, I thought it gave away the entirety of the arc of their relationship within minutes of the movie starting, but it defined that arc very well. The interaction between the two, the betting, the banter and the collaborative effort just for the fun of it was unexpected and had a certain charm to it. Another scene I found myself laughing through was when Philippe has Driss attend the opera. Driss has an absolutely hysterical reaction to seeing a man dressed like a tree singing in German, and he absolutely cannot contain his disbelief. This feeds into exactly what you were talking about in terms of Driss having little taste for high art, which I agree is an overplayed trope in the two-worlds-colliding subgenre of feel good films, but in this instance I found it quite funny. I also was disappointed in the outcome of the impromptu ensemble. I remember literally thinking “oh, this is where Driss learns to appreciate part of Philippe’s world.” I was mistaken.


Paul: I guess that sums up our slight differences of opinion about this film. We seem to be pretty much on the same page about the overall quality, but I get the impression you laughed a little more than I did. Humor works on all of us differently. That’s what makes it so hard to recommend comedies to people.

I’m trying to think of some other nice things to say about the movie, because I definitely didn’t hate it. But all I’m coming up with is ways that the movie could have been worse, so this will be faint praise. I liked how, in the paragliding scene, it’s the stuffy (and paralyzed) rich guy who enjoys the activity, while the fun-loving Driss is terrified. That scene adds some nuance to the characters. I was also dreading the possibility that Driss and Magalie (played by Audrey Fleurot) would end up together at the end. But she keeps the upper hand in that relationship, and, well, I won’t spoil the surprise twist. Also, I thought that the process by which Driss decides he wants the caretaker job was effectively conveyed. The contrast between two bathing situations captures his thought process nicely.


Daniel: The Intouchables was a well edited and presented dramedy that ultimately thought a little too highly of itself. It’s inspirational and heartwarming, but only to the extent that one has come to expect from this type of genre; nothing more. With likable characters and above par performances, the film managed to be a fun viewing experience for me, although I can’t see myself particularly wanting to give it a second viewing. Culture has discovered cheap tricks to make people feel good, and this is the type of movie that employs a large number of that arsenal.


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One Response to “The Intouchables”

  1. Some Links, Some Thoughts — and a Correction | Infinite Crescendo Says:

    […] a discussion of the movie The Intouchables between my friend Daniel Robison and myself at our blog Gaffer MacGuffin’s Movie House. Both of those films disappointed me, so the only thing I have to recommend these pieces is the […]

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