Thursday, May 24, 2012

Toledano/Nakache's French Box-office bonanza THE INTOUCHABLES opens....

First seen in New York City nearly three months ago -- via RENDEZ-VOUS WITH FRENCH CINEMA -- the second most popular movie in French cinema history, THE INTOUCHABLES (Intouchables), proves one of those rare, audience-pleasing hits that deserves every penny it rakes in. Why? Because it takes what some of our more cynical critics are happy to call "stereotypes," turns them on their head and then opens them up into living, breathing and above all surprising human beings.

If you appreciate foreign films already, you'll have no problem; even if you're resistant to subtitles, Intouchables may win you over because it moves fast and possesses a simplicity and charm that clearly grabs audiences and doesn't easily let them go. It's a lovely piece of film-making, a model of classy discretion compared to movies of the "buddy" genre that are made over here.

To begin with, the main characters -- one of France's richest men, now a paraplegic, and a hunky Black African from the banlieues -- are so much more than the usual oil and water types that people this genre. In the typical version the movie always takes us -- and its characters -- from "They hate each other now" to "They've grown to love each other over time."  Not here.

These two guys -- played superbly by the gifted François Cluzet (above, right, of Tell No One and In the Beginning) and Omar Sy (above, left, who walked away with this year's Best Actor award in France, beating out even Jean Dujardin) -- are in each other's corner from almost the beginning. They can help each other, and they know it. So they do. While this might weaken the suspense and anticipation in a lesser film, here it simply allows the filmmakers, Eric Toledano (below, right) and Olivier Nakache (below, left), to concentrate on how all this happens and to give us the succulent, enjoyable details. These details are handled, by the way, with the kind of brevity, subtlety and wit that you do not often find in American "buddy" movies.

Among the many details, I'll just mention two: the movie's wonderful use of art -- appreciating it and creating it -- and the burgeoning interest (sexual, romantic) of the caretaker in the beautiful young woman who acts as secretary to the paraplegic. How these are handled by the filmmakers combines surprise, humor and credibility in equal doses. Each scenario plays out to a satisfying, though not necessarily expected, conclusion.

Above all Intouchables is a great love story, albeit one without sex or even much eroticism (well, ears do get rubbed erogenously, as above). Yet it puts you on cloud nine and keeps you there for most of its near-two-hour running time, as it bonds classes, races and men. No wonder it has raised the ire of a slutty and racist politician like Jean-Marie LePen. More power to it! Though based on reality (these two characters do exist; they helped each other in this manner and remain friends today), the movie is still a lovely fairy tale, one that has a lot to teach us. That combination, of course, is one of the prime reasons that we love -- and trust -- movies.
Some of 'em, anyway...

The Intouchables (112 minutes from The Weinstein Company) open tomorrow, Friday, May 25, in the Los Angeles area at The Landmark and the Arclight Hollywood, and in New York at the Paris Theatre and the Angelika Film Center.

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