Sunday, September 2, 2012


Here's a film to see.  It's still in some theaters, though it has been out for a while now and it's the one I'd most recommend of those I have seen this year.  It's called The Intouchables--a French movie, starring nobody I knew, but with two actors in the leading roles who share a marvelous and improbable chemistry, and worth seeing just for that.

The story is a simple one: Driss, a black gansta type from the mean back streets of Paris applies for a job as caregiver for a wealthy quadriplegic, knowing perfectly well in advance that he is unqualified for the job and with the express intention of being turned down--in order to qualify instead for his next round of unemployment benefits.  He lounges about offensively at his interview, insults everyone--including his prospective employer--and walks off with a Faberge egg, fully expecting the rejection slip that will assure him his welfare check.

He gets the job.  Philippe, disabled as a result of a paragliding accident, is a born risk-taker.  Bored to distraction by his condition--and by those he pays to cater to his every whim--he chooses Driss precisely because the man treats him without the dreary respect and pity to which his disability might seem to entitle him.  He needs the danger to which Driss, sometimes heedlessly, exposes him; needs the thrill of risk that Driss supplies.

The result is transformation for both men.  Driss finds in his heart a sense of responsibility and love for a white man who is totally dependent on him.  His anger and cynicism transform into commitment and respect--for himself and others.  Philippe's own hard shell softens; he learns there are other things to live for than the appeal of risk and material success.  Both men escape, each from their own particular, extreme form of suffering, into the kind of happiness that will allow them to pursue a life very different from the one they had seemed fated to.

The story is told with falling into the ever-inviting trap of sentiment.  Both central characters benefit from the grit of an unsentimental appraisal of their own predicament and a blunt, unpredictable way of dealing with it.  For every suggestion of despair, there the balance of triumph and exhilaration--a white-knuckle car chase through the streets of Paris, a breath-taking episode of paragliding in the mountains.  But mostly, as I see it, this is a buddy picture and a love story: two men brought together from opposite extremes on the social/racial scale, learning to trust and love each other despite the obstacles.  In watching their hearts open, ours open, too, with the reward of greater compassion and understanding of what it means to be a human being.

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