The Intouchables

California Filmes/Press Image
A scene from 'The Intouchables'

In its native France, The Intouchables (Amigos Improváveis) has set box-office records and become a cultural phenomenon. Let this serve as a reminder that the French make blockbusters just as bad as ours. This formulaic buddy comedy has also caused a stir of a different sort, with Variety, most prominently, accusing it of ‘Uncle Tom racism’.

While the film is clearly insensitive in its use of racial stereotypes, others have argued that the way the narrative bridges class and racial divides is part of what made it such a touchstone in Gaul. (This is a country that delivered 17.9 percent of the vote to the xenophobic National Front.)

The movie centres on Driss (Omar Sy), a black man from the projects who applies to be a caretaker for wealthy quadriplegic Philippe (François Cluzet). In a plot point that will please opponents of the welfare state, Driss interviews for the job only because he needs to maintain the appearance of seeking employment to stay on the dole. The rich man likes him because he’s the lone applicant who doesn’t feign pity. He’s hired, and soon Driss is teaching Philippe how to laugh at modern art and love pop music.

The real-life figure on whom Driss is based was Arab, which makes the movie’s racial politics questionable in a different sense. Either way, the film forgets for long stretches that Driss has a life – and a family – outside of Philippe’s world. (In one of the most egregious instances of stereotyping, he’s repeatedly shown making advances on one of his coworkers.)

Presumably fearing viewers would confuse the movie with either The Untouchables or Les Miserables, the Weinstein Company has made a linguistic hash by adding ‘the’ to the original French-language title, Intouchables. That’s le stupide.

By Ben Kenigsberg

The Intouchables video

The Intouchables details

Length 112 minutes

Country of origin France

Year of production 2011

Classification Not available

Opens 31 Aug 2012

Director Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano

Cast François Cluzet, Omar Sy, Anne Le Ny, Audrey Fleurot


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