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You would imagine a film based on a contemporary true story to be one about an extraordinary achievement of an ordinary man. You would expect it to be a film about a man with his hand stuck in a canyon, or a man defeating cancer and appreciating the gift of life. Probably even a sports film about the worst team ever that becomes the best team ever. You get the drift. The Intouchables is a film inspired by true life events but it isnt about underdogs or triumph of the human spirit. This is a story about humanity and the best relationship two human beings can ever share friendship.
Most movies that are about friendship are usually about kids graduating from high school/ college or a bunch of 40 year olds reminiscing the good old days. This film doesnt go down that memory lane. It isnt about young punks either. It isnt about getting high, getting your heartbroken and finally drifting towards maturity. This tale of friendship is actually about two human beings and why we have a need to want and hence, make friends. These are two heterosexual men who develop a bond of companionship. It could have become a film about racial issues but it never lingers there. (Yes you could still make a case for racial stereotyping here). It could have made a comment or two on sexuality but it remains platonic. It could have been a film about class but it never comments on the vagaries of the rich and poor. It could have been a film about intellectuals or philistines but it only pokes fun at both. (The best conclusion there can be, in my humble opinion) You see how Im stressing more on what the film is NOT, than what it IS? The success of the film lies in how it doesnt become what it could have been.
Let's get to what the film is. Fundamentally, it is a film about two very different people and how this odd pair finds friendship. Philippe (Franois Cluzet) is a tetraplegic, he is white, rich, has a refined taste in art and his sexuality is subdued. Driss (Omar Sy) on the other hand, is physically able, he is black, unemployed, thinks music is only for dancing and his sexuality is overt. The commonality between these two gentlemen as subtly brought forth, is however different they may be physically, sexually or financially, damn it, their entire outlook on life may be different, but what holds them together is their emotional necessities. Their story is almost like a romantic-comedy, the way they meet, the fashion in which their story progresses, it seems like fate is bringing them together. Philippes hesitant chuckles which burst into laughter, while Driss is being himself. The scenes involving the paintings, music and the theatre are incredibly funny. The moments where we see both the characters misty-eyed (boys don't cry) are poignant to say the least.
While I mentioned many reasons why it could have been a bad film but its not. There are reasons why it could have been a great film but its not. It has its moments of sentimentality, which cheapen an otherwise strong film. The ending especially, could have been a little less clichd. Albeit, the main reason why the film doesnt soar towards greater heights is the fact that the real Driss is called Abdel, he is an Arab and not a man of an African descent. Did the filmmakers feel it would be too risky a move to make a film about a white man and an Arab in todays troubled times? With no visual effects to boast, I was surprised to find that The Intouchables has made $350 million worldwide. Would the film not have made that much money if the filmmakers didnt make this change in ethnicity? We may choose not to make (or watch for that matter) films about these pressing matters but these questions of commerce, creativity and socio-political responsibility will need answering one day.