(image taken from U Nation)
(image taken from My Dog, Dinner)
Yesterday evening, the filmmaker and I went to see popular French film The Intouchables; we had to hastily seize our opportunity during the incredibly short run at my local theater, as testosterone-fused and adrenaline-gushing smash The Expendables II premiers tonight. Heartily recommended by my mother, father, and younger brother, whose film aesthetics and specific tastes for French culture vary wildly, I was certain the narrative and acting would be laudable and enjoyable, but still a bit unsure as to the balance of comedic and humanist elements, and just generally how I would embrace and reflect on the work. The past few days have been a bit melancholy, and I left the theater last night in heightened spirits, feeling inspired and uplifted and just plain satisfied.
Popular, mainstream French filmmakers have mastered the art of integrating comedy and drama and romance and tragedy in a natural and organic flow, an approach that continues to elude most popular American filmmakers. It takes delicacy, elegance, and a brazen neglect of certain puritanical tenets of propriety and political correctness to tell the story of two vastly different but equally disenfranchised men, in a culture renowned for proud national identity and fierce racism, as well as an arguably justifiable pretension, who overcome personal struggles to develop a veritable bond. And it takes brilliance to do so without compromising the humor, or the poignancy, and without adopting a veil of sickening sentimentality or smelly cheese.
Philippe is a millionaire invalid, a result of an unfortunate and purposeful paragliding accident, a sort of masochistic, cathartic response to grief and to love. He refuses pity, in a characteristically French way. While interviewing various stuffy and overly qualified and clinical applicants to be his assistant, he hires Driss, a Senegalese immigrant, casual criminal, and loafer who simply wants proper documentation to collect social welfare checks. An aesthete who can move only his head, and a compassionate thug who indulges in violent and impulsive thrusts, the two are an unlikely couple, thus the main source of humor, but also the foundation for a meditation on human relationships, personal evolution following adversity, and the crucial nature of challenge, rejection of complacency.
For me, a young woman, stories of platonic male friendships and bonds always holds a certain intrigue, a mystery of touch and of understanding that in some ways, the most integral, I can never truly know. Here, that archetype is further nuanced by the intricacy of physical dependency: Philippe lives by the arms and legs of Driss, Driss lives by the financial welfare of his successful employer. The clever pun of the title with the familiar social caste in India, the Untouchables, is no mistake
Beyond the allure of beautiful unfolding of this story, the sweeping landscapes of the pristine Swiss Alps mountains and the grittier views of the Parisian projects, unknown and unfamiliar to most Americans, are stunning. Again, though, it is particular subtle moments, quite character of most French film I have seen, that are most compelling, most absent in many commercially popular films produced here: twists of words, glances shared between two characters, short scenes of contact without dialogue. By the end, though bittersweet and powerful, and in many ways concluding just as I was suspecting, and hoping, the film did not exude that sort of clean, sweet, and sometimes morally tinged wrapped-in-a-bow sort feel that many American comedies do. In some ways, it was simple, lacked any extravagance, unassuming; in another sense, it was a rich display of the power of our own human spirits.