Based on a true story about a quadriplegic and his live-in carer, Untouchable tells a familiar story about two people who learn from each other’s life-experiences. As one of my cinema comrades astutely noted, although this underlying idea is not entirely original, the beauty of this film is all in the telling. It’s precisely this that makes it a worthy contender for film of the year. Rarely has a story been better told than this.
“A worthy contender for film of the year”
Francois Cluzet plays Philippe, a wealthy French widow who became paralysed from the neck down following a paragliding accident. Advertising for a new live-in carer, Philippe meets the casual and politically incorrect Driss (Omar Sy), when he attends for interview hoping to get the third employment rejection he needs to be eligible for state benefit. Attracted by Driss’ lack of pity, Philippe offers him the job and the two embark on a life-altering friendship.
The film opens to a stunning car chase sequence as Driss takes Philippe on a thrill drive through Paris, evading the Police only by claiming Philippe is having a fit, ‘€200 says I can get an escort’ bets Driss. Accompanied by a beautiful piano score from Ludovico Einaudi this represents one of the most captivating opening sequences I’ve seen in recent times and sets the tone for a film which is both hilariously funny and deeply touching.
Untouchable doesn’t try too hard to be funny and as a result, the comedy feels very authentic. Many of the laughs come from the difference between the social backgrounds of the two main protagonists as their two worlds collide – with two of the standout scenes taking place in an art gallery and a theatre. Only during a scene where the two compare their music tastes does Untouchable verge on twee. While these scenes represent some of the more obvious ways in which Driss and Philippe’s experiences are contrasted for comic effect, the intelligent script from Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano also draws out these nuances in their everyday dialogue and attitudes, making for a film that is consistently funny throughout. Their’s is a script that navigates difficult issues with ease and as Driss is compared to trained care professionals in the film’s later stages, attitudes and behaviours are challenged with intelligence and sensitivity.
While Nakache and Toledano (who also direct the film) make us aware of the social differences between Philippe and Driss, they avoid the temptation to linger on Driss’ misfortune. Driss’ home is depicted in all it’s bleakness but the darker side to this community is simply suggested in Driss’ protective attitude to his younger brother. Subtlety is the key in Untouchable and Driss’ earlier adversity is presented in his feelings towards the new opportunities now open to him – as he is introduced to his opulent new bathroom at Philippe’s Parisian home, Omar Sy’s expression is remarkable. Despite Driss’ difficult youth, Omar Sy gives us an upbeat, confident character who becomes very appealing, very quickly. With superb comic timing and an infectious laugh, Sy delivers a character who we long to spend more time with.
Cluzer also gives a considered and intelligent performances as Philippe. In his most striking scenes, Cluzer conveys Philippe’s inner demons using facial expressions alone – a movement in his eyes, a twitch in his face – leaving his audience in no doubt of Philippe’s inner torment.
The chemistry between Cluzer and Sy is magical, deepening during their characters’ most intense moments – as they bicker about Philippe’s epistolary romance and as Philippe suffers from pain and panic. The supporting cast also adds to this remarkable dynamic, making the relatively short time spent with their characters hugely enjoyable.
It is not surprising given the success of Untouchable to date – it has so far won seven awards internationally – that an English language remake is on the way. It is difficult to imagine how any remake could possibly top this beautiful and intelligent French film and so I urge you all to choose subtitles and watch the first rate performances in this compelling original.
VERDICT: ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ 5/5
For more information, see the official website