The Intouchables

Two people from different walks of life are thrown together — one rich, one poor; one black, one white; any two people from different strata of society — and it turns out they forge an emotional connection. This idea has been done many times, but when it is well done it is always endearing.

It is well done in the movie The Intouchables, a 2011 French movie that was released here this year. Phillippe (Francois Cluzet) is a wealthy man from an old-money family. He hires Driss (Omar Sy), a young black man from the projects, to be his personal caretaker and aide.

Philippe’s friends warn him that Driss might take advantage of him, but Philippe has found someone full of life. Why this matters so much to him is the second theme of this movie.

The rich man is paralyzed from the neck down, the result of a hang gliding accident. Reduced from an active life to a greatly circumscribed existence, he depends upon his caretaker for the most basic of bodily functions — as well as for some companionship.

The movie is funny in many places. It is classified as a comedy, and the trailer certainly supported that. But the movie is deeper than that, and is also very sad — not to say bitter in some respects. It tries to touch on the realities of Philippe’s disability. It seems too simplistic to my very limited understanding of what it must be like to live with such a handicap, but it tries to address those issues.

Basically, the film is about people crossing borders to find they are alike, and that is always meaningful when it is done as well as this.

The other important piece of information about the character of Driss is that he cares. Throughout the film we are introduced to others who do not — who approach  their tasks in assisting Philippe with respect, but as a not-very-rewarding job.

At the end of the film we are shown images of the real people involved in the story. I can’t help wondering what it was really like for them, and especially how the young man’s troubled inner-city family fared during the years after Driss and Philippe met. I would have liked to have known that one additional piece of information.

Otherwise — this movie was a lot more complex than I thought when I walked into the theater. It is well worth seeing.