A Review of “Intouchables”- Post Racial Pablum or Psychobabble. You Decide.

Author and Landscape Architect

 A Review of “Intouchables”- Post Racial Pablum or Psychobabble. You Decide.

  What could be more entertaining than spending an hour or two immersed in the light and lively tale of an unlikely “Odd Couple?” “Intouchables” is the story of the relationship between a smiling, tetraplegic white billionaire (Francois Cluzet), and his home healthcare aide, a charismatic black Parisian of Senegalese origin (played by Omar Sy). Philippe is rich, very rich, having sold champagne for a living until one day he is injured in a paragliding accident. Released from prison for robbing a jewelry store, Driss, is kicked out of his extended family’s overcrowded apartment in a desperate Paris banlieu named Berlioz, and is selected by Philip out of a line of tiresome, obfuscating white candidates for a caretaking position. Driss lands in Philippe’s Cinderella-like circumstances while attempting to qualify for welfare. Let the games begin.

  Philippe’s physical pain is considerable, but not to be outdone by bouts of mental anguish at not being able to leave his elegantly-appointed apartment of high-ceilinged drawing salons and halls where all the oxygen has been sucked out of the rooms by pitying and pitiful assistants. The only air brought back in is by the gardener in the form of beets and radishes. Philippe is bored out of his skin he cannot feel, and exasperated by a body that he cannot control. He is desperate to live fully despite the circumstances.

   Enter Driss, the most unlikely candidate for a home healthcare worker on the planet whose outrageous behavior bestows life to Philippe and energy to the film. Driss has a criminal background, smokes copious pot. His professional references are “Earth, Wind and Fire, and Kool and the Gang.” He hits on every woman in Philippe’s  household. Driss is assigned to a king-sized bedroom with a white-wigged French aristocrat in a gilt-edged frame staring down at him, an apartment-sized bathroom with a lavish free standing tub, and soon enough, a central role in Philippe’s personal life.

 Some contend that Intouchables reinforces racial and cultural stereotypes. Arguably true. Viewing the film through a racial lens, one might dismiss it altogether. But Intouchables does not take on the challenge of solving interracial harmony as much as it tries to drill down into the mystery of motivation. It inhabits a breezy place, a comfortable if not shallow place, where the meeting and matching of different temperaments, personalities and characters is less troublesome, but perhaps more compelling, than race. A film that attempts to be more Barak Obama than Martin Luther King, (i.e. “post racial,”) Intouchables is, in the end, entertainment that banks on the outrageousness of Driss and the intractability of Philippe as characters. Well drawn, edited, acted, and cast, the screenplay allows us to lower the landing gear, touch down in difficult territory, get out, wander around, and drink from the waters of possibility.

   Philippe wants no pity. Driss refuses to be a voiceless house servant or a victim. He demands to be treated as an equal and quickly takes on a powerful, intimate role in Philippe’s life, and vice versa. Driss’s may be seen as a stereotypical character and if not for his personality, he would be. But both men share their deepest held secrets and vulnerabilities with one another. With the lightest touch, and with the engine of Driss’s humor and good looks, Intouchables provides us with a tiny keyhole through which we might peer into another world, a land of at least temporary if not fleeting détente between ourselves and the “other.” Driss and Philippe share a passionate camaraderie, and through one another, begin to imagine the depths of despair that, at times, afflict each of us.

  With a push or a shove in a more challenging direction, Intouchables might have become a parable. But it is not a brave film nor is it groundbreaking. It is made for Western audiences that yearn for comfortable answers to intractable moral dilemmas. Being post-racial means inhabiting an ahistorical middle ground, transcending tedious conversations about race, asserting progress, and leaving the room where no one is quite certain what was said.

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