Okay, so I lied. I promise to get back to Ragtime and the Shaw Festival tomorrow, but time out for a quick aside. I haven’t been discussing movies much of late in these posts, but interested readers are urged to go straight to “The Indie Film Minute,“where Barry Sisson and I have been reviewing independent films by the hundreds in one-minute radio shows, now playing around the country in select stations.
But for local Charlottesville readers, and anywhere else where The Intouchables might be currently playing, I couldn’t resist taking time out for a plug. Don’t miss this one. It’s just opened here in Charlottesville, finally, but with no advertising it could easily get overlooked. No, it’s not about Eliott Ness and the Al Capone Story. That was The Untouchables, from more than a few years back. This one is a little French gem that quickly earned the second highest box office in French history when it was released last year. It is now the highest grossing non-English-speaking film in the world. Whatever you may think of it, it’s now a part of film history.
The Intouchables is a true story of the very unlikely friendship between a French aristocrat, a quadriplegic as a result of a paragliding accident, and the young man from the Parisian projects whom he hires as his nurse. Sound tough? It is, but when I saw it a few months ago in North Carolina, it was also one of the more exhilarating, uplifting, funny, and touching films I’ve seen in some time. The two award-winning stars, veteran Francois Cluzet and newcomer Omar Sy, display an extraordinary rapport as their friendship develops, and it’s just plain fun to watch them. Okay, so the happy ending may feel a little too sticky sweet for some (true as it may be). And of course its American release was greeted with a storm of controversy, because young Driss is played by a black man, the first to win the French César Award for Best Actor. Since the real Driss was a “white” Algerian, not a Senegalese immigrant, the American assumption was that using a black man in a servile role was a display of “Uncle Tomism.” Well, go see it for yourself and make up your own mind. Omar Sy himself, citing cultural differences between American and French attitudes toward racism, never thought of the role as servile or racist. Instead, the friendship was seen to cross immigration likes.
Since we always seem to think we can improve on French films, and too few American audiences are willing to put up with subtitles, there will naturally be an American remake, starring Colin Firth in the role of the aristocrat. Apparently they’re talking of casting the Driss role as a Latino immigrant, in order to best tell the story in the American context.
We’ll see. But in the meantime, the French original, The Intouchables, is not-to-be-missed! And even with Colin Firth involved, I wouldn’t count on the American version to be as good.