The term “Oscar movie”, which usually denotes a well-made film that is self-consciously worthy has already been repeated in many reviews of Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano’s new film, Untouchable. There seems to be no doubt the film will at least be nominated for an Oscar for best foreign film given the level of acclaim and attention it is receiving worldwide, the film already having become a cultural phenomenon in its native France. However, while the film is life-affirming and has valid comments to make on society, arguably the main reason for its popularity is its overwhelming sense of fun.
The film is based on the true story of a rich quadriplegic, Philippe, and a poor ex-convict, Driss, who becomes Philippe’s carer and friend. Untouchable focuses on the relationship between the two and this is where the film really shines. François Cluzet and Omar Sy both give strong individual performances, but their scenes together are even more enjoyable. The two actors have a natural chemistry that seems very real. Coupled with a sparklingly witty script, this relationship provides the core around which the rest of Untouchable is built. The rest of the cast play minor roles, but they give uniformly good performances and their talents are well employed. The possible exception is the character of Philippe’s daughter, who seems a little underwritten, her plotline fading away as the film continues. The direction of Nakache and Toledano is very slick, with smooth camera-work and subdued editing that is striking yet subtle enough that it never threatens to distract from the story itself. The film’s soundtrack also adds to the overall effect. Simple but effective compositions in the more sombre parts of the film contrast with the songs chosen for the more uplifting scenes, a pleasing selection of aging but familiar pop hits.
Untouchable is not perfect though. It does have two major flaws. The first of these is the ambiguity between the film and the real life events it is based upon. While in all ‘based on true events’ tales there is some degree of artistic licence, so as to make a more enjoyable film, it seems a rather odd decision to transform the carer from Algerian to Senegalese. While this does, on the one hand, allow for social comment on the difference in lifestyles in France, having a character from the Paris Projects rather than just a criminal, on the other hand it seems disrespectful of the real life Abdel Sellou, on whom the character is based. The change enables the casting of the extremely talented Omar Sy in the role of Driss but it leaves the viewer wondering what else in the film is substantially altered from the true story. The effect is also to disconnect the ending, which shows the two real-life characters as they are now, from the rest of the film, as the real Abdel Sellou looks very different from his film -character equivalent.
The other main flaw in Untouchable is the plot itself. It is highly derivative leaving little surprise to the audience. While the film is based on a true story, meaning there is little room for manoeuvre as regards the basic plot, some moments seem too corny to have actually occurred, or at least, not in the way that is shown in the film. Also, while this is essentially a dramatic comedy, thus deliberately avoiding very serious or dark content, the treatment of Philippe’s paralysis seems somewhat trivialised and could have been examined in a little more seriously. As it is, Philippe’s disability is played mainly for laughs, which whilst not malicious, could seem a bit distasteful to some viewers.
Overall, Untouchable is very entertaining, if a bit light at some points. It is not a film that will change anyone’s life or cause any great discussions on film-making. However, it is a very well-made and humorous film, and the relationship between the two leads keeps the viewer engaged throughout. It may not necessarily be groundbreaking, but Untouchable will definitely provide a very enjoyable trip to the cinema.