‘ I bet you won’t last two weeks’
A man drives his passenger at a blistering pace across Paris, trying to avoid the irate police who are unimpressed with his speeding activities and are in pursuit, blue lights flashing and sirens wailing. ‘€100 says I can lose them.’ But this is not Taxi (1998). The driver, Driss (Omar Sy) explains to the police, when they finally get him to stop, that he is trying to get his passenger Philippe (François Cluzet), who is apparently having a seizure, to hospital. Except it’s a ruse. The hospital bit, that is. The two men, unlikely looking friends, have faked the situation to get them out of trouble.
And so time rewinds as we learn how these men, from very different backgrounds, became close friends. Following a six month spell in prison, Driss turns up for a random job interview in order to ensure regular payment of his government benefit. He clearly has no intention of working as an assistant to Philippe and is absolutely unqualified for the job. But he does seem to have a certain quality that Philippe is seeking and, much to his disgust, he actually gets the job. Philippe is a rich man who resides in a large house, complete with resplendent décor and posh staff. But he is paralysed from the neck down as a result of a near fatal paragliding accident. Driss’s job is to care for Philippe. But he’s really not impressed at the tasks he has been assigned and is vocal about expressing this. He is exactly what Philippe needs – someone who doesn’t patronise him or mollycoddle him and neither is he sycophantically reverential towards him. As the pair get to know each other their relationship changes.
Released in the UK one year after its debut, Untouchable already has an impressive pedigree. It is one of France’s most successful films of all time. Additionally its reception worldwide has seen this popularity broaden, with additional praise from no other than US president Barack Obama who added to the critical responses received, although this might, in part, be the result of a warm mention in the film – ‘A suit changes a man… you look like Obama.’
Untouchable is based upon the unlikely friendship between Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and Abdel Sellou. Writers and directors Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano saw a documentary about the pair in 2003 and felt the story had the potential to make a narrative film. Although there have been some criticisms about the film’s alteration of actual events, characters and, to some extent, its treatment of disability, there is nevertheless something deeply enjoyable and uplifting about the final product with its positive outlook and willingness to embrace aspects of society – disability and social issues – that are often given either a harsh time or a miserable one in the cinema, or are treated with too much deference.
Untouchable takes its influences from a variety of films and mixes them all together to make a gentle social comedy that is crowd-pleasing but not patronising. The film will inevitably draw comparisons with films about disability such as My Left Foot (1989) or The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le scaphandre et le papillon ) but there are other areas covered, such as the racial issue mixed with class background which can be found in everything from Driving Miss Daisy (1989) to Trading Places (1983). The discovery of the price of modern art becomes a revelation to Driss and an outing to the opera introduces a whole new world of music to him, even if he can’t stop laughing that they are singing in German! And it is the humour that, in many ways, helps the film keep its focus on the characters and their relationship rather than the issues.
Deeply enjoyable and frequently gently amusing, this is solid, thought-provoking entertainment and highly recommended.