intouchables_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

In the international indie hit The Intouchables, a French, aristocratic quadriplegic employs and befriends a young Senegalese man from the projects.  The two are the unlikeliest pair, but their yin-and-yang relationship is just what each needs.

After being paralyzed in a paragliding accident, Philippe (played by Francois Cluzet), retreats to his mansion, where he spends his days writing letters to a pen pal, driving his caretakers crazy and buying expensive art.

His new caretaker Driss (Omar Sy), a former thug from the French projects who does not want the job, shakes up not only Philippe’s life but that of Philippe’s staff and daughter Elisa (Alba Gaia Kraghede Bellugi).

The Intouchables is based on the novel You Changed My Life (due on American bookshelves June 19) by Abdel Sellou, the real Driss. Sellou was an Algerian con man who suddenly found himself employed by the aristocratic Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and found a friend in the process. The real Philippe currently is living in Morocco with his second wife and two children; and Sellou is living on his chicken farm in Algeria with his own wife and three children.


Screenwriters/directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano tell a story of contrasts.  There’s Philippe’s world of classic French touches — a revved-up Maserati, a snobbish staff. Then there’s Driss’ world of poverty in which his Aunt Chantal (Marie-Laure Descoureaux) raises five young children on a cleaning lady’s salary. Driss’ cousin Adama (Cyril Mendy), doesn’t help Chantal’s situation by becoming a drug dealer.

Intouchables is a moving story about the simple pleasures one finds when life is complicated. Nakache and Toledano capture this theme throughout the film and never lose sight of it. Whether it’s in the beginning of the film — when the audience doesn’t know the true nature of Driss’ and Philippe’s relationship, as they speed through Paris in a Maserati — or when Driss jokes with Philippe about his paralysis by handing him his ringing cell phone (Philippe can’t move from the neck down).


Sy, who is a French comedian, breathes life into Driss. We see a man who at first seems selfish, but actually is a caring person who just has to grow up.  In the meantime Sy’s Driss is like a bull in a china shop. He’s loud, boisterous and you’re never sure what’s going to come out of his mouth next. But that’s the beauty of why Philippe and audiences across the globe are drawn to Driss: He likes to make the people around him laugh, even if it’s at themselves.

Cluzet, who bears a striking resemblance to American actor Dustin Hoffman, gives a magnificent performance as Philippe. So real is Cluzet’s performance, viewers might be compelled to research his biography to discern whether he’s actually a quadriplegic. (He’s not.)

Philippe suffers the tragedies of losing his first wife, the love of his life, to a terminal illness after she’s miscarried several times, and then becomes a quadriplegic, himself.  Despite the tragedies of his life, Cluzet plays Philippe as someone who wants to enjoy the time he has left, without letting on that he needs someone to shake up his mundane existence of physical therapists and trips to the art gallery where he spent 41,500 francs on a painting, which Driss calls “a nosebleed.”


Movie ticket buyers can spend their money on the latest alien invasion film (Marvel’s The Avengers, Men in Black 3).  But those films already have made their millions based on their comic book heroes and action stars, respectively. The Intouchables, which reportedly cost 9.5 million francs to make — a fraction of the Avengers’ and Mens’ budgets — has already made a reported $343.6 million in its native France as well as Germany.  And it doesn’t have a single stunt.

Because of The Intouchables’ independent film status, it will be in theaters only for limited release at Regal South Beach, Gateway 4, Regal Shadowood, CinemarkPalace 20, Regal Delray, and Cobb Jupiter 18. 

So now is a chance to see something that is touching, heart-warming, and makes one stop to savor the simple pleasures in life.

Best of all is that viewers don’t have to spend an extra $3-5 on 3D. It’s just a great, two-dimensional film.

Photo: COURTESY OF Thierry Valletoux/ The Weinstein

A MOVING STORY: From right, Omar Sy as Driss, Francois Cluzet as Philippe and Anne Le Ny as Yvonne in Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano's film The Intouchables.