Friday, August 17, 2012

The Intouchables (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Intouchables

The long awaited feel-good film "The Intouchables" is finally here and not counting the sentimentality of the title, I braced myself for enough sweetness on my wheels to leave a trail of syrup on the Tropic Cinema carpet. It's not that I'm against pleasant or good-natured films, it's just that there have been too few films that have tackled persons experiencing life in a chair in a realistic manner.

Given the closeness of the subject to myself (up to a point), I was a bit weary. How can one top the wonderfully poignant "Gaby" (1987) that focused on a young female journalist with cerebral palsy who first comes to reckoning with independence and romantic intimacy during her stay at a university? Not to mention Jim Sheridan's visceral and visually dynamic "My Left Foot" (1989) about the Irish poet Christy Brown. Both films are beacons in my mind that contain their own shades, tints and hues of light that flicker and melt into their own unique patterns and sensory flavors. I confess that all I knew about "The Intouchables" was that the preview made it seem awkwardly like "The Bucket List".

But then I settled in to actually watch, and even despite a few corny moments, I was actively engaged and held in place. Francois Cluzet stars as Philippe, a rich quadriplegic with a penchant for art and classical music who needs an live-in aide. As if by chance, a man named Driss (Omar Sy) a young drifter originally from Senegal, applies for the job, not in the hope of getting hired, but merely to fulfill unemployment benefits. Voila. We can see what's coming a mile away: a few snappy one liners and Philippe is struck by the uninhibited and street-smart Driss. The two soon become inseparable.

The film rises above the usual Hallmark Card pitfalls mostly because of the infectious and novel chemistry between Cluzet and Sy. The two possess such an easy verve and lightness of spirit that the interactions shared between them become less about drama and more akin to life. This is no small thing and in watching them together it is hard not to smile. That being said, there were a few formulaic moments. How about the moment when Driss dances across the floor as if to show (once again) the stuffy conservatives how to loosen up?Is this really necessary? Or the sky-diving scene? Or the defiant, bratty daughter that only Driss can straighten out? And The Hitler stache? These little vignettes seem a bit pre-packaged from other films and are less compelling than the main crux of the film which remains breezy repartee between Cluzet and Sy.

And perhaps I'm being a stickler, but even regarding their relationship, I wanted just a bit more. How does Driss really feel being separated from Philippe at one point? How does Philippe feel? The abrupt leaving of Driss is given little emotional space concerning Philippe considering the bond made between them.

But all is not lost. All's well in the balance of wheels and the flesh, the shared polarity between the mental and the physical. The film makes an entertaining summer Idyll with fine nuanced acting mainly from Omar Sy who is effortless and a near joy. It is only the cross cultural trappings and predigested episodic moments that impede the film's speed. Forget the film's Cinderella-ish , "one has what the other one lacks" message. "The Intouchables" would have been a more emotive experience if it had dispensed with such conventional straps. The weightless exchanges between two people that care for each other are often more than enough.

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