Last year, Harvey Weinstein brought a French film called The Artist to the U.S. and wound up with an armful of Academy Awards. This year he’s presenting another Gallic import that not only was a box-office smash, but features Omar Sy, who beat out Jean Dujardin for the Best Actor prize at the César Awards, that country’s equivalent of the Oscars. It’s easy to see why. The Intouchables is a charming, funny film with two winning performances; in short, a crowd-pleaser.
François Cluzet plays a man of taste, refinement, and great wealth who has become a quadriplegic after a parasailing accident. When his household staff interviews new caregivers he rejects all the obvious choices and goes instead with a Senegalese immigrant, an ex-con from the wrong side of the tracks, played by Omar Sy, because he might bring something new and colorful into his life. For instance, Cluzet loves classical music, while his new helper likes to dance to Kool and the Gang and Earth, Wind and Fire. Needless to say, a bond of friendship grows between these two opposites and overcomes a number of hurdles.
Writer-directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano make this comedy-drama appealing and genuinely touching at times. They make no pretense of subtlety, but the actors bring nuance to their performances all the same. I knew I was having my buttons pushed, but I still enjoyed watching the film.
Some American critics have voiced alarm about the casting of a black man in a stereotypical role, which hasn’t affected audiences’ enthusiasm for the picture. I’m troubled somewhat by the fact that the film is trumpeted as being based on a true story, while brief footage at the end reveals that the real-life caretaker isn’t black; he is an Algerian immigrant.
In the end, does any of this really matter if the film plays well? Omar Sy brings such vibrancy and humanity to his performance that he validates the role and his casting in it. As for filmmakers telling us the truth, I don’t see why the French should be held to a higher standard than Hollywood, which lies to us about this sort of thing all the time.