A phenomenal success in France, The Intouchables presents unique translation problems in the U.S., problems that have nothing to do with subtitles and everything to do with race and stereotype. This hermetically warm and empathetic comedy, based on a true story, charts the development of a friendship between Philippe (Dustin Hoffman look-alike François Cluzet), a rich white middle-aged quadriplegic gentleman, and Driss (comedian Omar Sy), a poor black younger man from the projects hired as a caretaker.
Oh, but Driss has spunk! Sexuality! Life force! Mad dance skills, demonstrated to the beat of Earth, Wind & Fire! And similar Magical Black Man attributes marshaled for the betterment of an uptight white guy. The power dynamic may charm the French, but it’s likely to push the cringe buttons of local moviegoers in Obama’s post-The Green Mile America. Apart from the wince-inducing moments, The Intouchables is often a pleasant buddy picture. Sy (see sidebar) does indeed have spunk, life force, and physical charisma. And Cluzet (Tell No One) communicates Philippe’s frustrations with subtlety.
The real caretaker, by the way, is Abdel Sellou, a squat Algerian fellow glimpsed briefly at the end of the film. The significance of replacing an Algerian with a Senegalese as Favored French Immigrant is a topic I’ll leave to French critics and pundits in President François Hollande’s post-The Artist France. B-