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Untouchable (Intouchables) - Review

Untouchable

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

HEART-warming French hit Untouchable is one of the must-see feel-good films of the year.

A runaway hit in its home country, where it is the second highest grossing film of all time, and a global success the film is inspired by the true story of a friendship between a millionaire paraplegic (played by François Cluzet) and his ex-con care provider (Omar Sy).

It is often refreshingly non-pc but its heart is firmly in the right place, thriving on the chemistry between its charming leads and the knowledge that most of what you see is true.

In real life Philippe Pozzo di Borgo became paralysed from the neck down following a paragliding accident in 1993. His eventual friend, career criminal Abdel Yasmin Sellou, immigrated to France from Algeria and applied for the job of carer solely to be able to continue claiming benefit.

Seeing the lack of compassion in Abdel’s attitude towards him, Philippe hired him and, against the odds, the two men became friends with Philippe now crediting Abdel with saving his life.

The film stays mostly true to these events, although changes Abdel’s name to Driss and makes him come from Senegal. But this decision by co-directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano was more to do with playing to the strengths of their regular collaborator Sy, who himself comes from a project in the Parisian suburbs.

Most importantly, though, they stayed true to the real-life Philippe’s desire to see his life story made as a comedy… a film that refuses to pity his predicament.

Hence, the film that results is celebratory, helping to confront perceptions of disability much in the same way as this summer’s Paralympics have.

Some of the comedy is truly outrageous while the banter between Cluzet and Sy has to be seen to be believed. It’s refreshing to find a comedy that is prepared to take risks.

That’s not to say the film isn’t sentimental (it is) but the emotional moments neatly offset the comedy and feel all the more poignant and genuine as a result. Audiences will love spending time in the company of these two men.

Performance-wise, the film also excels. Cluzet is quietly mesmerising as the disabled Philippe, relying on his face and eyes to convey a wide range of emotions (from pain to despair to joy), while Sy (who won the Cesar ahead of The Artist‘s Jean Dujardin) is a revelation. The actor brims with a vitality that’s difficult to resist no matter how insensitive or self-serving some of his actions initially are. Yet there’s a vulnerability too that adds plenty of depth.

Nakache and Toledano’s direction is also first-rate, maintaining the film’s momentum and continually doing things to surprise and amaze. They also do well to find the right balance between the (often hilarious) comedy and the drama.

Untouchable therefore emerges as one of the surprise packages of the year. It’s a life-affirming experience that genuinely delights.

(In French, with subtitles)

Certificate: 15
Running time: 112mins
UK Release Date: September 21, 2012