A story this enjoyably touching does not come around often, especially one with such a unique and classy style of humour. Untouchable takes a potentially uncomfortable subject and turns it into a celebration of the good things in life and the strength of friendship. It has overtaken Amélie in the global box office chart as the most theatrically viewed French-language picture outside of France in history and has been chosen by the country as its Foreign Language entry for the Academy Awards. We think it stands a pretty good chance…
Untouchable is based on real-life events. In 1993, French businessman Philippe Pozzo di Borgo was left paralysed from the neck down after a paragliding accident. When Abdel, a man from the council estate-esque ‘projects’ of Paris, was hired to take care of him, an unlikely friendship blossomed into something that was to have great benefits for both men.
François Cluzet plays Philippe and Omar Sy is his carer, Driss. However, the two men could not be more different: Philippe is very rich and likes listening to classical music, while Driss is from a large, poor family that struggles with violence and separation. Whilst it is Philippe who many might initially assume to be at a disadvantage due to his disability, it soon becomes clear that Driss also faces his own struggle amongst difficult socio-economic times.
However, this film has no morbid fixation with self-pity. Instead, co-writers and directors Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache have taken a potentially sombre subject and pierced it with a cutting humour that relieves any unpleasant feelings. Not only that, but it makes the film intensely amusing and enjoyable, with positive emotions running throughout.
Driss is exactly what Philippe needs, refusing to pity him and even making light of his disability. Omar Sy’s portrayal is flawless, bringing fresh enthusiasm to every situation, whilst letting occasional moments of tenderness shine through to show how much he cares for Philippe.
In his role as Philippe, François Cluzet is constrained to simply acting with his facial expressions and voice, making his ability to embody the powerful personality of his character all the more impressive. When he laughs, we feel a sense of relief and true happiness, whilst his moments of pain also manage to ring true.
The soundtrack to Untouchable is extremely powerful. During Philippe’s birthday party, we see the contrast between the pitch-perfect classical music played by a band and the energy of Driss’s favourite song by Earth, Wind and Fire playing out on his iPod. Something must also be said about Omar Sy’s spectacular dancing skills – he can throw shapes that are good enough to make any disco pro envious.
Although you might have simply sat in a cinema seat for a couple of hours, Untouchable is likely to leave you with an enormous sense of accomplishment. This film challenges views on disability and works to subvert audience perceptions on this topic. It will also leave you feeling optimistic about life in general, which after all, is a fantastic outcome for a film to have.
Untouchable is in cinemas now and you can read our interview with creators Olivier Nekache and Eric Toledano here.