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Katarina Hedrén
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Katarina Hedrén (Africiné)

Olivier Nakache & Eric Toledano, filmmakers

Omar Sy (Driss)

Omar Sy (Driss)

The Intouchables

The Intouchables

The Intouchables

The Intouchables

The Intouchables

The Intouchables

The Intouchables

The Intouchables

The Intouchables

The Intouchables

The True main characters: Abdel Sellou (Driss, in the movie) and Philippe Pozzo di Borgo (Philippe, unchanged).

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French Poster

The Intouchables by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano
Pushing Mr Daisy in a wheel chair

In theory I understand how one could leave the cinema after watching The Intouchables, feeling warm and fuzzy inside. The story about Philippe (François Cluzet), a man paralysed from the neck down and his nurse Driss (Omar Sy), who teaches him to embrace life and all it has to offer, is at first glance a heart-warming one. Two troubled men from different backgrounds cross paths and end up learning valuable lessons from each other, and finding peace of mind as a result.

Co-written and co-directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, and based on a true story, The Intouchables encourages its audience to put complexity aside and forget for a moment that not all is black and white in this world. This, in fact, is the main premise of the film, which in an unoriginal fashion associates education, efficiency, sophistication and boredom with a white character, while ignorance, chaos, laziness, lack of sophistication and fun is associated with the black character. That Driss is an unpolished precious stone waiting to be picked up and refined is established almost immediately. "I want someone merciless", the cultivated and sensitive Philippe, who is tired of being reduced by well-meaning caregivers, tells a peer who warns him not to allow Driss access to his home and life.

This premise translates into the assumption that more separates a young black man from the ghetto and a middle-aged white wealthy inner-city man than unites them. Another, less unreasonable suggestion brought forward in this French box-office sensation is that one thing they do have in common is that both suffer from paralysis. No matter how wealthy a white man trapped in a quadriplegic body is, he is still incapable of moving freely. And regardless how vigorous a young man from the ghetto is, his potential for upward social mobility is likely to be hindered by his black body.

Driss and Philippe epitomise untouchability in the sense of their low social ranking in a society where being white and able-bodied is the norm. However, as illustrated in the Lelouch-inspired opening scene, where the police let them of the hook for reckless driving, their marginalised state and accompanying invisibility, sometimes make them untouchable in the sense of being invincible.

The previously mentioned premise of Nakache and Toledano's fourth feature film collaboration is naturally the premise of virtually every gag in the film, with the result that anyone who finds the premise too stereotypical and racist will find The Intouchables unfunny and offensive.

Driss not understanding the meaning of words like "alliteration", "epistolary" and "references" or failing to consider art as a form of expression instead of just entertainment. Driss (who supposedly has never painted before) drawing a painting, which is sold for a fortune to a clueless art collector (similar to a very famous monkey). Driss manhandling Philippe's rude neighbour and laughing himself silly at the opera. All these situations are funny only from a perspective where the uncultured young man, has been taken out of his natural habitat (the ghetto). In the same way Philippe getting high and hanging with prostitutes is hilarious based on the assumption that such behaviour is completely out of character for his kind, despite what we have learned about men like the former French minister and head of the IMF, Strauss-Kahn.

Certain parts of the otherwise straightforward plot appear incomprehensible when considered only on a superficial level. Why Driss should quit his job instead of taking time off when his younger brother Adama (Cyril Mendy) needs his help is anything but obvious. Similarly the significance of Driss turning out not being the son and brother of the family that he grew up in, is unclear on the same level of engagement with the film.

What appears to be incomprehensible and meaningless on one level is however, on a deeper level, a logical unfolding of events in a universe where there is only room for one black person. In this context it is understandable that a likable black man be metaphorically distinguished from the lot. And that he, when his black past literary knocks on the door, is physically removed from the exclusively white context in a seemingly generous gesture.

On the subject of Idriss's family and mother, the filmmakers' treatment of their female characters in this buddy film is also worth a mentioning. The duo happily reduces a visibly troubled adopted teenage-girl (Alba Gaïa Bellugi), whose mother is dead and whose father is paralysed, to a spoiled brat. They do not think twice of jokingly subjecting Philippe's personal assistant (Audrey Fleurot) to advances that would be classified as sexual harassment by any decent employer. The brunt of, Nakache's and Toledano's disregard for the film's female characters, is carried by Driss's mother (Salimata Kamate), who is portrayed as a burdened woman who "took" her oldest child from relatives, had a host of children with several men after becoming a widow, and who calls a Fabergé Egg a Kinder Egg.

"Chill" someone might suggest while ignoring that entertainment is the world's best Kool-Aid. A potion that makes any kind of poison taste good and sweet. The poison that Nakache and Toledano feed us is not going to kill us. Like the constipation medication Philippe's daughter takes in what is depicted as an amusing suicide attempt, it will cause a lot of shit though, as the film confirms and reinforces stereotypes related to whiteness and blackness that should have been buried long ago.

The Intouchables, like The Help, Black Venus, Skin, to mention a few, are deceiving in that they are masquerading as antiracist, when in fact, due to their storylines and character construction, the nicest thing one can say about them is that they are tolerant but ignorant, and more accurately label them racist.

The ethos of this feel-good film is eloquently driven home when Driss, in a tender scene, jokingly styles Philippe as Hitler, with the genocidal dictator's characteristic moustache and hairstyle. It is an ethos shared by most self-proclaimed antiracists reluctant to admit that no one, including themselves, is immune to the kind of bigotry and racism that is part of everyday life: "Let's point fingers at "real" bigotry and racism, while leaving people who do not send people to concentration camps, burn crosses, beat up immigrants or defend apartheid, but are products of societies where white is right alone."

Driss's character is based on the real-life nurse Abdel Sellou - a man of Algerian origin. That the talented Omar Sy, who is of Mauritanian/Senegalese origin, plays the role of Philippe's (whose ethnic origin remains unchanged in the film version of their lives) nurse is not a problem - quite the contrary. The suspicion that Nakache and Toledano could only assign Driss's most prominent features to a black man is however, as is the dull juxtaposition of white and black to illustrate and emphasize fundamental differences in character. It would be as interesting to know the reasoning behind the choice of a black actor, as it would be to find out if they ever considered to cast Philippe's character or any of his family members, friends or staff as anything else than white.

Call me cold or fussy, but what the film ultimately tells me is that, similar to the hips of Philippe's stiff family members when Driss turns Philippe's birthday gathering into a groovy disco, a filmmaker duo trapped in a universe of obsolete racist assumptions (whether they know it or not) do not lie. The Intouchables, as a consequence, is a white supremacist feel-good film made with what I assume were the best intentions in mind.

"Review first published on Katarina's blog: In the Words of Katarina (posted 16th January, 2013).

Twitter: @KatarinaHedren

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   liens films

Intouchables 2011
Eric Toledano, Olivier Nakache

   liens artistes

Cluzet François

Nakache Olivier

Sy Omar

Toledano Eric


01/03/2012 > 11/03/2012
festival |États-Unis |
Rendez Vous with French Cinema 2012
17ème édition

17/05/2012 > 10/06/2012
festival |États-Unis |
Seattle International Film Festival - SIFF 2012
June 15-21, SIFF Cinema at the Uptown and Film Center

24/08/2012 > 28/08/2012
festival |France |
Festival du Film francophone d'Angoulême - FAA 2012
5ème édition : Hommage au cinéma Sénégalais + Focus Anne Fontaine + Bjoux de famille + Avant-premières + Compétition

projection |Sénégal |
Ciné club Konrad Adenauer : INTOUCHABLES
à 18 h 00. Un film de Eric Toledano, Olivier Nakache (Avec Francois Cluzet et Omar Sy). Entrée gratuite (carte exigée).

12/04/2013 > 01/05/2013
festival |Cuba |
Festival du cinéma français à Cuba 2013
16ème édition

   liens structures

Direct et Différé

France | Neuilly-sur-Seine


QUAD Cinéma
France | CLICHY

Weinstein Company (The)

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The Intouchables (Intouchables)
bande annonce



The help (La couleur des sentiments)
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bande annonce


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