In France Les Intouchables, as it is known there, is the second-highest-grossing domestically produced film of all time and one of its stars, Omar Sy, beat The Artist’s Jean Dujardin to the 2012 César award for best actor. The seasoned awards campaigners Bob and Harvey Weinstein, who made sure Dujardin won his Oscar, have since brought this film to the United States, with a strange, half-translated title (The Intouchables) and the rights to an English-language remake signed and sealed. Now, with its title fully translated, it arrives in the UK.
Untouchable wears its award-winning aspirations on its sleeve, and all of the necessary boxes — boundary-crossing friendship, hard-hitting themes, warm comedy — are ticked with a fluorescent pink marker. François Cluzet, perhaps best known here for the muscular thriller Tell No One, plays Philippe, an eccentric Parisian millionaire and quadriplegic. Tired of being surrounded by be-cardiganed milquetoasts, he advertises for a new live-in carer and hires Driss (Sy), a strapping black immigrant from a broken home in the banlieues who only applied for the post to keep the benefits office sweet.
Almost instantly, the two men strike up a mischievous camaraderie. Driss, a good man in need of stability, is taken with his opulent new home, and we see him larking around in the free-standing bath and carousing with exotic women in his wood-panelled apartment. (Perhaps this sequence didn’t need to be so strenuously underscored by jazz-funk standard The Ghetto.) Meanwhile, Philippe savours his new carer’s lust for life, bracing lack of pity and ready access to marijuana. Driss also tirelessly flirts with Philippe’s secretary Magalie (Audrey Fleurot) and strikes up a warm, platonic friendship with his aide Yvonne (Anne Le Ny).
These characters are conduits for charisma rather than great dramatic roles, but the horseplay between Sy and Cluzet is often very funny, and one joke bounces merrily into the next. A gag about Driss confusing his employer’s shampoo and foot cream starts with a terse exchange about the lack of lather in Philippe’s hair: cue a brief follow-up shot of his feet swathed in suds. The dialogue has also been translated for maximum mainstream impact. Regional jokes have been paraphrased to include US-friendly punchlines involving the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Justin Bieber.
Inevitably much of the humour is built on stereotypes, and one sequence, in which the servant boogies to Earth, Wind & Fire while his master looks on approvingly, has caused disgruntlement in some quarters. (One normally even-tempered American critic furiously characterised Driss as a “performing monkey”.) But Untouchable is not really a film about race, or disability, or anything other than friendship: my (perhaps generous) reading of this scene is an older man who cannot dance looking first enviously, and then joyously, at a younger man who can.
Untouchable’s moral is an optimistic, conservative one: give a man responsibility and he will act responsibly, setting aside the odd joint and speeding ticket. This is not a film that will change the whole world, but one that just might charm it
Review by Robbie Collin, Telegraph