REVIEW: The Intouchables Starring Francois Cluzet, Omar Sy. Directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano. M. ★★★★★
A contender for feelgood crowd-pleaser of the year, French comedy-drama The Intouchables is a moving, funny and charming celebration of life and living.
It's based on the true story of an unlikely friendship between a pair of mismatched individuals, very rich aristocratic quadriplegic Philippe Pozzo di Borg and impoverished street-smart ex-convict Abdel Sellou. The screenplay is based on Phillipe's memoir, while the film's writer-directors, Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, made a documentary on the pair in 2004.
Here they turn the Algerian Abdel into Senegal-born Driss, played with cheek, energy and exuberance by Omar Sy. He's hired by Philippe (Francois Cluzet), a grieving widower who suffered an accident that paralysed him from the neck down, to be his live-in carer and companion in a luxurious mansion in Paris.
But Driss is no angel - more a guardian devil whose humour, spontaneity and sense of fun injects vim and vitality into the life of a man who wants no pity, but to be treated as an equal and for the person he is.
In effect, Driss, a lifeforce, revives the essential joie de vivre that has subsided in Philippe's life. At the same time Philippe exposes Driss to modern art, classical music and opera - and in return for the excitement Driss provides through fast driving, Philippe thrills Driss with paragliding.
The story touches on each's family problems - Philippe with his spoiled adopted daughter and Driss with the family into which he was adopted. As Philippe, Cluzet shows how expressive a face can be - the look in his eyes, the smile or grimace - as well as character coming through his vocal personality. There is talk of a Hollywood remake, for Americans who generally dislike subtitles, with Colin Firth as Philippe.
As Driss, Sy is cocky, mischievous, indomitable and a womaniser, either flirting with Philippe's attractive assistant (Audrey Fleurot), playing matchmaker to another aide (Anne Le Ny) or trying to persuade Philippe to meet a woman with whom he has corresponded. Together, Driss and Philippe are the film's title (the French word intouchable meaning untouchable), two people who for different reasons are both marginalised in society.
As a film about an odd couple's camaraderie The Intouchables recalls Driving Miss Daisy, the 1989 film about a black chauffeur's effect on a rich white widow. To that extent some critics have found The Intouchables condescendingly exploiting, lazily or intentionally, racial stereotyping. Moviegoers can agree with that or see this film, as I do, as sweet and sentimental, sensitive and uplifting, fun and funny - a movie with humanity that proves to be irresistibly endearing and thoroughly enjoyable.
Argo Starring Ben Affleck. Directed by Ben Affleck. M. ★★★★
Also based on a true story, the political-rescue-escape thriller Argo continues the resurgence of actor Ben Affleck as a director.
The story of how CIA operative Tony Mendez entered Iran in 1980 during the hostage crisis to rescue six American diplomatic personnel hiding at the Canadian ambassador's residence from revolutionary forces is Affleck's third straight directorial success, following the crime thrillers Gone Baby Gone (2007) and The Town (2010).
He brings to life a story which remained secret until 1997 and, despite its obvious outcome, instils it with pulsating tension and suspense, using artistic licence to amplify close calls and narrow escapes.
Affleck also stars as Mendez, who enters Iran on the pretence of looking for locations there to make a sci-fi action movie called Argo, after enlisting the help of a Hollywood makeup artist (John Goodman) and a producer (Alan Arkin) to make such a fiction believable. This "best bad idea" aims to sneak the six fugitive Americans out of Iran in plain sight as film crew members.
The film opens with a concise history of Iran, which explains reasons behind the country's anti-US attitude, and then dramatically depicts the storming of the US embassy in Tehran in 1979.
Affleck deftly cross-cuts the drama in Tehran with a comic skewering of Hollywood movie-making and political manoeuvring in Washington DC at a time when no-one wanted to jeopardise the lives of 52 Americans held hostage in Iran (they were released after 444 days' captivity).
What Argo shows is that Affleck is a skilful maker of compellingly told movies and his future, especially at 40, is behind the camera, rather than in front of it.
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