This is The Life
Just as how Jack Neo's Ah Boys to Men Part 1 finally took over the box office crown held by Money No Enough more than a decade ago, so did Intouchables take over the French box office equivalent from the quirky comedy Amelie, which was the champ over about the last decade. As the French entry for the Oscar's Best Foreign Film picture next year, I was glad I held out against watching this while on a flight, patiently waiting for it to make its big screen bow here, which it finally did outside of the 2nd Rendezvous of French Cinema earlier this month.
There were many moments that made it so easy for me to identify with the movie, especially coming from caregiving, which is never an easy thing to do. Those who have never done it, I'm talking about full time, real time, on the job alertness, and doing everything you can to make things comfortable for the other party. There's no Off button you can use, and anyone in this for full time employment, gets my utmost respect. And watching how the characters here go about their routine, bring back memories that are forever dear to me, and needless to say, these routines and close contact interaction, bring about a new level in relationships.
Lifting someone up from bed in back-breaking fashion, it brings new meaning to "He ain't Heavy, He's my Father". Tucking someone into bed. Did that too. The gloves for the toilet visit, nothing new, gross that it may be at first. Wheeling someone out to soak in sights and sounds outside of one's home, well, it may be the most inconvenient, but seeing someone's face light up for the rare trip out, is priceless. And these life-affirming, relationship building events may seem to stem from mundane tasks, and tasks we take for granted, such as bathing or just sheer presence to interact without distraction, but to the physically infirm, it means the world.
And this is what The Intouchables is about, the story of two men thrown together by fate in what would be an employer-employee relationship that develops into firm friendship, a bromance even if you'd like. Inspired by a true story, Francois Cluzet plays the rich aristocrat Philippe, who is quadriplegic from the neck down from a paragliding accident, and has to rely on an army of helpers and assistances to get through every day. But his primary caregiver never lasts more than a week, given his rather stiff (pardon the pun) ways, until Driss (Omar Sy), a young man with not the most polished resume - he responded to the ad just to chalk up mileage to get welfare - gets hired despite verbally crossing swords during the interview, and soon, a bet turns into what's life-changing for them both, bringing out the best in each other.
You can half expect writer-directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano's story to contain the usual clash of cultures and background, with one refined in the arts and the other being quite the rough and gruff, obviously no time to enjoy the finer things in life when one has to worry about bringing home the bacon for an extended family, with trouble brewing when members trying to stay in line with the law. But their story is tinged with so much sensitivity and truth, that it's hard to quibble with the loads of humanity on display, going by the adage that one shouldn't judge a book by its cover, or by one's background or resume. One may be rich, but getting someone else to wait on you, even if providing him or her with a comfortable life, is a different ballgame altogether, especially when one is not kin or kith.
But throughout the story, one cannot deny that life can still go on quite comfortably in a material way, with wealth on display, and if there's a minor grouse about this, is how old money gets flaunted around, with Meseratis and private jets being part of the arsenal to enjoy life. Then again, this is part of the true tale, so it's not debatable. Not forgetting the extended ensemble cast of assistants in the form of Yvonne (Anne Le Ny) and Magalie (Audrey Fleurot) amongst others who pepper the scenery, the former serving to fill in the blanks for Driss as he tries to gather background, while the latter coming in as an object for Driss' romance, with a little surprise up in store.
There's no qualms The Intouchables is a delight to sit through, being a story of hope and friendship. And in some ways, even for the most able amongst us, this is a tale that reminds us of the importance of humour, which is medicine enough to get us through some of the toughest situations we'll encounter from time to time. Both Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy put in amazing performances, and their delivery of their characters, screen charisma and banter, are more than reasons enough to catch this. A definite recommendation!