As far as the Hollywood scene is concerned, there were two movies that mattered this summer: The Dark Knight Rises and The Expendables 2. While I could go on both raving and criticizing Christopher Nolen’s finale to the Batman saga or explain why Sylvester Stallone should have known when to leave something good be, I’m not going to. Because as far as I am concerned, there was only one movie that truly mattered this summer, and that was The Intouchables.
For those of you who have not seen this brilliant French film, I strongly encourage you to do so. Also, please do not be turned off by the word ‘French’ and immediately box it in with all other foreign films you have no interest in. This is a great movie to break your strict ‘no sub-title’ policy.
As a brief synopsis: Philippe is an older man who is paralyzed from the neck down after an accident, which has left him rich, lonely and dispassionate. His caretakers last no longer than a few weeks due to his demands that can never be satisfied, until he meets Driss. Driss is a young troubled black man who takes on this job simply for its benefits, and the unlikely bond begins. With the combination of complete hilarity, sorrow and truth, the two manage to fill voids in their lives stemming from this exceptional friendship.
To say the least, I left the theater with a sense of fulfillment. Now, I do understand that this is generally what movie producers are aiming for with these slice-of-life stories; but how exactly is this achieved with a film that’s centered around an invalid? After all, he doesn’t miraculously get up and walk again at the end of the film. One might argue that the true pains and struggles of a quadriplegic are tactfully danced around and untouched. However, the audience does in fact get a glimpse of the stipulations of this unimaginable lifestyle, even if it is often presented to us in a light hearted and more pleasant manner. This cannot be identified as a weakness in the film because this agreeable nature is in fact the value of the film. The pure naivety and lack of empathy that Driss has for his patient is what makes Philippe regain a sense of normality or at least find a new comfort and place in his unfavorable position. The story does not ignore his real troubles, and in fact emphasizes them when Driss isn’t around. However, even with his agonies, Philippe uncovers passions and pursues love. In the end he is fulfilled; and that allows the audience to feel the same.
Unfortunately, when looking online to learn more about The Intouchables, I came across a painfully portentous review in the New York Times, which starts out by claiming a more suitable title for the movie would have been “Déjà Vu” because apparently we’ve seen this movie a million times before. Essentially he clumps this treasure with all other post-civil-rights entertainment. Seemingly, if you’ve seenThe Blind Side you’ve already seen The Intouchables. That’s like saying Herald and Maud and The Graduate might as well be the same film because a young boy and older woman hook up.
This movie unquestionably exceeds the genre of interracial interactions and cultural stigmas by highlighting them, and then throwing them out. The fundamental significance of the film directly strips these characters from their race, age and background to find a commonality that can and should be found in all humanity: a love of life. To say that this common ground is an outlandish model and excuse for the discomfort that surrounds racial realities is extremely sad. This critic goes as far to say that, “…this film can only be described, in the context of French cinema and global popular culture, as an embarrassment.” To say the film does not have its problems would perhaps not be accurate. However, this inherent urge to find flaws in beauty needs to have limits, and the only thing that is truly embarrassing is how often we refuse to step down from our high horses to appreciate something important.
By: Lauren Opatowski
Photo Courtesy of Unationblog