With a set-up which sounds like it could easily have been concocted by a Hollywood studio to be packaged and presented to a Nicolas Sparks-type demographic, in reality, Untouchables (adapted from a real-life tale) is a winning slice of mainstream French cinema which successfully negates the slush even if it follows a familiar tried-and-tested formula.
Tell No One’s François Cluzet is Philippe, a wealthy quadriplegic who is growing increasingly weary and depressed. He is also in the midst of looking for a new carer, having failed to gel with previous employees. Into his palatial surrounds steps Driss (Micmacs’ Omar Sy), an aimless, happy-go-lucky type, currently in-between jobs and more interested in Philippe’s female assistant and expensive-looking ornaments than seeking actual employment. The brash, down-to-earth manner of which he asserts himself in the interview is just what Philippe is looking for however, and to Driss’ complete surprise, he finds himself hired for the role.
The two struggle to reach simpatico at first (Philippe’s friends and family express concern at his rather leftfield choice) but a gradual trust is established between the pair, and a strong and unyielding friendship forms.
If the film starts out on the wrong foot by trying just a little too hard to paint Driss as a cheeky lovable scoundrel, and forcing the humour which stems from the disparity between the character’s two worlds, it soon settles into an emotionally engaging and beautifully-acted two-hander, which only the toughest cynics would be hard pressed not to be moved by. The odd couple dynamic makes for some wonderfully amusing and very human moments, and a particular stand-out scene see’s the pair visiting the Opera, where Driss cuts through the stuffy pomposity much to Philippe’s bemusement and delight.
The rapport between Philippe and Driss is the glue which binds the film, and their camaraderie is both touching and sincere, without once descending into anything approaching mawkishness. The sentimental aspects are held at bay, thanks largely to Cluzet, who is fabulous as a man determined to live a fullest life as possible, even resorting to the composition of carefully-crafted love letters to a faceless object of his affections. A warmth and humanity shines through, and it becomes increasingly apparent why Philippe would look to a no-nonsense figure like Driss to assist him.
The film’s dominance of the global box office (US notwithstanding) is entirely justified, and hopefully it will break through that foreign language glass ceiling for mainstream audiences over here, in the same way the likes of Amelie and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon did previously. This is a film very much intended to be seen by as wider audience as possible, and it would be a real shame if those prejudiced against subtitles missed out.
Given the subject matter and success the film has found, it’s hardly surprising to see it’s already been snapped up by Harvey Weinstein for an English-language remake (with Colin Firth rumoured to be attached). However faithful the Weinstein’s are to the original material, it’s easy to imagine that manipulative, Oscar-baiting content finding its way in there somewhere. For that reason alone, you should make a date with the original now.