Occasionally, there are films which you come across, which you can’t recommend highly enough, and immediately want to force other people to sit down and watch them too. Most of the time, if they do watch it, they say it was “fine”, or “OK, I guess”. And then you question everything about them as a person, and why are you even friends in the first place?
On this one, though, trust me. The film in question? ‘Untouchable’ (or ‘Intouchables’), a French comedy/drama film from 2011, which was released in the UK in 2012. And I know that makes me come across as trying to be cool/hipster in saying I watch foreign language films, but I don’t care – I’m absolutely right on this one. C’est magnifique. C’est formidable. C’est incroyable. And you should go and watch it, immediately (although you may have to rent it online).
The film is based on the true story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo (a businessman from a very wealthy family, who became a quadriplegic) and his caregiver, Abdel Sellou, an ex-convict. Their story has been documented in a 2003 documentary, 'A la vie, à la mort', and the memoir, ‘A Second Wind’ (first published in 2001, and with an English translation available from 2012). I confess I haven’t watched the documentary, or read the book yet (but hey, COVID-19, and all). However, there are some changes. Most notably, Abdel is portrayed by Omar Sy, as ‘Driss’, someone from the banlieus/suburbs of Paris, not Algeria.
If you are French, me saying “Untouchable is one of my favourite films” is a bit like if I had said “The King’s Speech is one of my favourite films” – you know about it, and for you, it isn’t the quirky hidden gem I think it is. It was nominated for eight César awards (the French version of the Oscars), with Sy winning the award for Best Actor.
A brief bit of background, my undergraduate degree is Law and French. The trouble is that once you stop studying French, unless you are working overseas/on a holiday, you stop using it. And so, the skills that you built up over the course of over a decade of secondary school, A levels (down South), and a degree slowly diminish. So you look for means to reconnect where you can
As an aside at this point, Paul Taylor, an English comedian, has a series of short videos on French life, entitled “What the F***, France?”, which I highly recommend, and not just because he has a penchant for also wearing check shirts, and wearing glasses as he goes through the awkwardness of understanding the bises, or, as is relevant for this post, understanding French cinema.
So why is Untouchable such a good film? Well, I’m glad you f****** asked. Untouchable is a brilliant film for three reasons (that only makes sense if you actually watch those videos).
Firstly, I don’t normally remember the circumstances surrounding going to watch a film at the cinema. However, on this occasion, I can remember distinctly walking from my Halls of Residence for a good 30+ minutes, in order to watch it at the independent cinema, Hyde Park Picture House, a quite frankly superb place to go in Leeds. I know Glasgow has the Grosvenor, but I haven’t frequented it yet, so I’m just going to say HPPH is better. I knew nothing about the film before going in. I didn’t like being in the flat, and it was £5 to go out for a few hours. Hope and expectations were low.
Secondly, it is one of the few films where I was smiling constantly for the whole of its running time. As in absolutely beaming. The jokes and set pieces just keep coming, but not in a slapstick way. It is so well balanced. There's a difference between asking you to laugh at a disability (mocking), and finding comedy from the situations which the disability outs the characters in. And it does this by treating the duo as if they are in a buddy film, but with genuine warmth.
Thirdly, it is quite probably, the only film which I have owned where I have let someone borrow the DVD, and where they haven’t let me have it back. Normally, I’d be annoyed at this – any album that my sister has borrowed has gone missing through some kind of portal. But on this one I don’t mind – they’ve got a cracking film, and I can always get another one. It’s so good, I’ve historically been willing to give it away and buy it again.
As tends to happen with films which are successful which aren’t English – it has had a Hollywood remake, ‘The Upside’, starring Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart. And I can’t bring myself to watch it. I loved Omar Sy so much in this, that when he appeared in Jurassic World, and wasn’t eaten by a raptor, I did a mini air punch in the cinema.
Having that replaced with Kevin Hart, who is loud and brash, and seeing someone who, I strongly suspect, was quite fond of the pay cheque as the disabled multi-millionaire will hurt me deeply. And bear in mind, that by comparison, I paid my own money to go and sit through Cats, a musical I know I don’t like anyway, but was willing to give it a chance, and you can see how strongly I feel that I don’t want to ruin it.
So, go and watch it (the French version). Maintenant!