“Intouchables”. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
There I said it.
Because now, an enthusiastic critical reception of this film has become problematic, ever since Variety’s scathing accusations of apparently blatant, overwhelming racism, while still, of course, summoning Harvey Weinstein to remake it, after considerable edulcoration and rewriting. Wholesaledly dismissive, not a single comment of Variety’s review perceptively pertains to the film’s direction, acting or style, simply to the Uncle Tom’s Cabin attitude the film supposedly revives and thus the film is entirely read through that lens.
Impossible therefore not to devote this blog to Variety’s reaction before getting to the film itself. Variety’s knee jerk response screams of the kind of infuriating political correctness whose notion of mutual respect and understanding presupposes eradicating differences altogether, and of the self-righteous finger pointing without consideration of a different cultural reality than one’s own. The film is not a satire, social, racial or otherwise; it is not prejudiced nor vicious. It is a comedy that, yes, exaggerates certain realities for the sake of comedy – that’s how comedies function – but there are truths to both characters’ backgrounds and behaviours beneath the layers of comedic effects. Honestly, the gap between the two men, Driss (Omar Sy delivers here a tender, natural and hilarious performance) and Philippe (François Cluzet, equally extraordinary… as usual), felt to me far more of a generational one than a social, physical or racial one. I am not sure I understand how the casting of Omar Sy, who is Senegalese rather than Algerian, is “telling” of anything, as Variety implies, but regardless, what matter here are not Driss’ ethnic origins but rather his youth, his energy, his imposing presence and powerful force of life that aren’t going anywhere and demand of Philippe to be reckoned with. Driss’ larger than life, in-your-face differences from Philippe, his vitality, physicality and his defiance are what’s needed for Philippe to emotionally come back to life. Driss understands this, and perhaps even deliberately decides to overplay the role he holds in Philippe’s life, as a result. Pegging this as racism, is missing the point of the film entirely. When Driss mocks contemporary art (which Les Inconnus and Yazmina Reza had done previously without exposing themselves to such disproportionate hostilities after “taking hoary potshots at high culture”) and conspires with Philippe to sell his own painting to a pompous collector, as well as when he mocks the (justifiably) ludicrous tree outfitted opera singer, or the teen-idol hairdo of the dandy boyfriend, it isn’t candour on his part that is the butt of the joke but the false pretentions of the upper-middle class that doesn’t see how silly it has become in its forms of entertainment.
I’m assuming that the directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano hardly intended to create a racial polemic nor polarize either side, quite the opposite. Since, however, it appears Variety’s reviewer privileges racial issues over any other in the judgment of this film’s values, let’s mention that Olivier Nakache is a Sephardic Jew who began his career working with and being infused by the spirit of France’s comedic dream team [for a large part North African in fact : Gad Elmaleh, Jamel Debbouze, Atmen Kélif, and Omar Sy among others] as well as directing short features primarily concerned with social issues (Le jour et la nuit, Les petits souliers). If anything, the two directors might suffer from a care bear complex. Accusing them of racism is outlandish. They seemed to have been moved by a feel-good story which they chose to tell in a comedic fashion and employed the rhetorical tools that apply to the genre. And guess what ? It worked. People cried and people laughed and everyone generally felt pretty good.