Thursday, June 21, 2012

"The Intouchables": a man from the streets learns caregiving, compassion, friendship

I didn’t make the trek to the Embassy of France for Filmfest DC’s closing night presentation of “The Intouchables”, by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, but I caught it last night at the AMC Shirlington, now distributed by The Weinstein Company and produced by Gaumont, Studio Canal and Alliance Atlantis.

For me, the obvious comparison is to the indie film “An Angel Named Billy” (Feb. 23, 2012, here).  But this story presents more obviously existential challenges for the caregiver.

African immigrant Driss (Omar Sy) shows up for an interview for a job as a caregiver for a rich middle aged man now a quadriplegic because of a paragliding accident. He really just wants to do the required number of interviews so he can go back on welfare.  (That reminds me of a line in the spoofy Minnesota comedy “Great Lakes” (2002, dir. James Byrne) where Noble, played by Jeff Gilson, asks, while crawling under a table, “Does that count as a job interview?”)

But the Parisian aristocrat Philippe (Francois Cluzet) won’t let him off the hook.  He says he likes the man from the streets because he (Driss) won’t show any of the expected pity.

Driss is dazzled by the luxury of his live-in quarters, but resists the intimacy of the job at first, as a nurse guides him into the intimacies.  He feels that dealing with orifices is unmanly, maybe even homosexual (considering the culture he was reared in).  He learns to put on the support garter stocks on Philippe’s balding legs, necessary to keep blood coming back to Philippe’s brain.

The movie actually starts near the end, as Driss is driving Philippe in the rich man’s sports car to a hospital and is stopped by cops.  I recognize the tunnel: I drove through it in a rental car in my own visit to Paris in 1999. The story of the friendship unfolds then from the beginning.

The visual climax of the film occurs when Philippe goes paragliding again, as a quadriplegic.  It’s Driss who has to be forced to jump.  There are, in most cities, clubs that offer lessons in parachute jumping and paragliding, typically several hundred dollars a session.  Not for me.  (Another good one is hot air ballooning.)

According to the endnotes for the film, both characters are still living and are still close. 

It's interesting in this film how some of Paris looks just like Washington DC, especially around Dupont Circle. 

TWC offers a six-minute short, “My Valentine”, as sung by Paul McCartney, with Johnny Depp and Natalie Portman.

The feature film should not be confused with the 1987 Paramount classic gangster film “The Untouchables”, directed by Brian De Palma, with Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness. I saw this in Dallas when it first came out.

The official site (for "The Intouchables" from TWC) is here

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