“The Intouchables” is extremely deserving of all the praise it has received. It has gotten criticism in some circles for being racist but I’d have to disagree, and I’ll go into the reasons why in deeper into the review. To give part of my answer now though, the critics who see the film as racist do not give Driss enough credit as a character or the fact that his agency is what drives the plot, not Philippe’s.
The film was directed and written by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano and produced by Nicolas Duval-Adassovsky, Laurent Zeitoun, Yann Zenou and Harvey Weinstein.
The story is about Driss a Senelgese immigrant to France who ends up taking a job with the paraplegic Phillipe when he needs Phillipe to sign off on a welfare paper so that his family can receive money. From here the story unfolds as Driss’s past and family eventually meet up with his new life caring for Philippe as Philippe deals with racism from his own class background and how dismissive most people are of him because of he is a paraplegic.
The Pros: The Soundtrack – This film has one of my all time favorite soundtracks. The music gave me chills, especially since the scenes matched up with the music seamlessly. Ludovico Einaudi is truly a master of his craft and I want to hear more of his work after this.
The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and presents the fear or the freedom in different moments so well. Be it the car ride at the beginning and end of the film or the moments where Driss or Philippe are isolated from the world.
The Writing – The script is quick and witty and there is so much great banter between Driss and Philippe as Philippe is overly proper and Driss could care less. This leads to a great dynamic between the two. Magalie’s witty dialogue and Marcelle’s empathy are also beautifully written.
The Characters – Any of the characters we see for multiple scenes who speak get great exploration! This especially applies to the women who are Philippe’s aids. We see their romantic relationships and friendship with Driss develop over time and see how they change one another.
Magalie – Magalie is the character who Driss takes an immediate liking too but is not interested in him but loves to play around since she knows it will never go anywhere as she values the friendship and she is a lesbian, which is the reveal we have at the end. All the minor characters in this are great and Audrey Fluerot does an amazing job!
Marcelle – Marcelle is one of the people who is standoffish of Driss at first while Driss is getting used to living in the house. That changes when Driss shows awareness that she didn’t have, both in regards to the drugs she was taking to help with her stomach and her attraction to the gardener. She is Driss’s closest friend when Philippe asks Driss to leave. Clotilde Mollet does a wonderful job.
Philippe – François Cluzet plays one of the main stars who became paraplegic during his risk taking adventures that he used to share with his wife. This leads to him not having any confidence in his looks or physical appearance and leads to a huge insecurity and guardedness. This changes when Driss treats him like Driss would anyone and he values it since Driss doesn’t see a disability, he just sees Philippe. Eventually when Driss’s cousin is in hiding he kicks him out though and gives into the pressure from the rich white French folks from his family and older friends who never liked Driss but never are around unless they have to be. When he realizes that he when his next caregiver is treating him like a patient he has enough of it and has one last adventure with Driss. Cluzet does an amazing job and since he cannot move his body all his acting is in his face.
Driss – Driss is a character who has given up but after choosing to stay and help Philippe changes and finds he has passions beyond just existing, which was what he was doing before when he was getting welfare for his family. It is this passion for life that he discovers that rubs off on Philippe and from where they build their friendship. The story is really driven by Driss and we see this in the introduction as he bets with Philippe how the cops will react to them at different points as he is driving Philippe’s sports car. In the end he and his Aunt makeup and he leaves Philippe as a caregiver since he’s made his own path and had been the entire time, though in the credits we see that they still remained friends. Omar Sy is rich in this role.
Themes – The greatest themes in this are prejudice and how wrong is (in racism or prejudice towards a person based physical difference), to not fear to take chances (be it meeting someone new, a date or making up with someone you have wronged), and the theme of freedom (with a great flying scene and a few shots of birds).
The Message – The message is one that many films have done but it is done well here. That the groups that are looked down upon be they groups based on class, race or body are wrong and that all anyone wants in the end is to be free. We see in Driss’s talk with his cousin, in Philippe’s desire to fly and in Driss’s exploration of art and how he acts. He is never a servant or subservient as his entire way of being is a reaction to that and we see this when Philippe’s adopted daughter treats him like a servant and the other times Driss calls people out. Driss is a character who never loses agency, unlike Philippe who loses it the moment Driss leaves and he is stuck with a caregiver who treats him like a patient.
The Cons: Not Enough Time with Driss’s Family or Past – We learn a lot when Driss shares his backstory about how his Aunt and Uncle always wanted children so they adopted him from his parents in Senegal but things got complicated after his Uncle left and his Aunt had more kids. You get that because he was adopted he felt rejected and was never able to form a close bond, but you don’t hear this in the scenes with his family and that took away from the film.
Driss and Women – Driss is creepy sometimes and Magalie has to say no multiple times before he finally fully realizes it. I don’t know how purposeful this was or if it was a poor attempt at comedy, but those scenes were uncomfortable…especially since Driss has a lot more awareness with everyone else. It takes him much longer to learn with Magalie, which is a shame.
This film is not perfect, but it is a favorite and I do think the criticism it has received for racism in regards to Driss can be argued certainly but I don’t see it in the actions or agency that the character lives. He drives the story and is arguably the main character, not Philippe. The one thing I would have changed is more time with his Aunt and cousins. We never get to know them the way we get to know the folks who worked with Philippe, but this is largely because Driss’s Aunt kicks him out of her house. How things could have been changed is giving more of the reasons why and more of Driss’s backstory earlier as it is an amazing backstory and I wanted to know more, even though the core focus was on the friendship between him and Philippe. Suffice to say, I recommend this film highly.
Final Score: 9.7 / 10