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(film only review)
A Maserati Quattroporte is racing through Paris by night. It doesn't take long until the police notice and chase it. The young, black driver is betting 100 Euro that he can escape, the middle-aged, white man in the passenger seat is only smiling. The driver then changes his mind, lets the police stop him and bets 200 Euro that they'll soon escort them with blaring sirens to a hospital. While a policeman is searching him roughly, the passenger has an epileptic fit, the driver starts shouting that they may be responsible for the man's immediate death. He's allowed to get back into the car, they're escorted to a hospital as he had foreseen. But when the policemen run in to fetch the emergency service, the Maserati roars away into the night. It stops at the roadside somewhere and the two men nearly die laughing. The elderly man begins to drool and the young driver wipes his mouth.
I watched the film at the cinema and I noticed the reaction of the audience. It was the same as mine. It dawned on us that something was wrong with the man. He's disabled! Obviously severely, he can't even wipe his mouth himself. Is it permitted to laugh about a disabled person? Not about, but certainly *with*! After some initial incredulous gasps the audience went along with the story and when there was something to laugh about, they laughed without embarrassment. There were many opportunities to do so.
The two men are Philippe and Driss, different in every conceivable aspect. In flashbacks we learn how they met. Philippe is a French multimillionaire and educated in the fine arts. Driss is of Algerian descent living with his numerous family in a crowded apartment in one of the Parisian suburbs. He's a ragamuffin and occasional crook involved in whatever shady dealings go on among his mates. After a paragliding accident Philippe has become a quadriplegic meaning that his body from the neck downwards is dead so-to-speak. He depends on helpers and assistants for each and every move and bodily function. When a new personal caregiver is needed, Driss presents himself. He doesn't know what the job is about and he doesn't care. He's just been released from prison and needs three rejections from potential employers to get his dole money. Philippe would be his No 3. He jumps the queue, puts his papers on the desk of the secretary and demands a signature stating that he won't get the job. Something in this insolent youngster catches Philippe's attention and to everyone's surprise he engages him for a trial period. A well-meaning friend warns Philippe, "You should know that the boys from the suburbs know no pity." He replies, "That's just what I want, no pity".
It's not only his physical condition that has thrown Philippe into depression. Soon after his accident his wife died of cancer. His adoptive daughter, a spoilt teenager with the typical problems of that age, acts out her frustration on the staff and doesn't care much for her father. His only diversion is dictating romantic, rather kitschy, love letters to a pen friend who doesn't know about his condition. The film shows how the mere employer-employee relationship transmogrifies into a genuine friendship that affects and changes both men.
A work of art should speak for itself, but here it's necessary to have some background information to fully appreciate it. Without it the film would come over as the most unlikely and unbelievable fairy tale. You would probably enjoy it but put it aside thinking, "Yeah, well, if only." It's based on the real life story of the French aristocrat Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, former boss of the champagne dynasty Pommery and his Algerian caregiver Abdel Sellou. Both have written books about the ten years they spent together from which everyone who's interested can learn that the film is close to their real lives. (In an interview Sellou confessed that this is not only the first book he's written but also the first he's read).
Philippe Pozzo di Borgo was asked several times for the permission to turn his life story into a film, but he always denied fearing it would become too sentimental. The film director duo of Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache finally changed his mind and this is a good thing. With such a story and brilliant actors what could have gone wrong? Imagine an actor who is in nearly every shot but who has only his face to express emotions. Francois Cluzet does that superbly. He was nominated for the César Award for Best Actor (the French Oscar) but lost it to Omar Sy as Driss who - as everybody is ready to agree - deserves it. The brown Algerian Sellou has become the black Senegalese Omar the reason being that Sy is a well-known actor and comedian in France. The minor characters are also well played: I won't give you the actors' names, however, assuming you wouldn't know them anyway.
When I was young, French films were en vogue but I never took to them. I didn't find anything of interest in the marital problems of bourgeois French couples. Recently now, when I hear 'French film', I think of really funny French comedies which fortunately have found their way across the border. 'Welcome to the Sticks' - truly wonderful. And now 'The Intouchables'. It seems that every other Continental European has watched this extraordinary buddy movie. This isn't true, of course. Many people haven't watched it at all, but others have watched it several times.
I don't know French and have visited only the region on the German border and Paris 45 years ago. I definitely can't call myself a Francophile. Now, however, I get the impression that I share something with our neighbours on the other side of the Rhine which I don't with people of the English tongue on both sides of the Atlantic. There have been acrimonious reviews in British and in American newspapers which in my opinion shed more light on the reviewers than on the film. They must have a screw loose.
- What it means to care for a quadriplegic hasn't been shown in detail? Indeed, it hasn't. But I don't think that millions of people would go to the cinema to see a documentary on how to empty the bowels of such a patient.
- Driss' poverty and crime stricken background hasn't been expounded enough. Indeed, it hasn't. Believe it or not, the directors didn't want to make a documentary on the social problems of immigrants from North African countries.
- "Driss in real life was an Arab gnome, not a grooving black stallion. So we can presume the scene where he breaks up a sleepy chamber-music concerto by throwing on some seventies funk and expertly diddley-bopping across the marble floor, electrifying the room, is maybe a wee bit of a stretch. (The Globe and Mail)". Indeed, it is! This is a film, not a one-to-one copy of real life which *no one* would survive watching. Real life is boring most of the time. Most people are not attractive. Who in their right mind would spend money to watch them in a film? This is what art is for! It condenses, accentuates, emphasises. This is what actors are for! They've learnt to express whatever the director wants to express in a way spectators can bear and enjoy.
If you want to do yourself a favour, go and watch the film if it's running in a cinema near you or get the DVD. I can't imagine that you won't like it. You'll be well entertained and all your health troubles will be appear in a new perspective. You'll think twice before starting to moan.