Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Upbeat, Un-French Movie

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Upbeat, Un-French Movie

Article excerpt

A story with a happy ending, in these times of political squabbling and economic uncertainty, is a welcome surprise.

The year 2012 will remain a landmark in the history of French cinema. Not because "The Artist" and its star, Jean Dujardin, won three Golden Globes and may get an Oscar next month. The reason is the incredible success of a sweet-and-sour comedy, "Les Intouchables." Already seen by more than 17 million people in France -- almost a quarter of the population -- the movie stands a good chance of breaking the record for the most-viewed French film of all time.

What is remarkable about "Les Intouchables" is that it is so un- French: no ideology, no intellectualism, no class warfare or morose soliloquy about the human condition.

The story is based on a real-life experience, and not a funny one at that: A rich aristocrat, who had lost his wife to cancer, becomes quadriplegic after a paragliding accident and needs round-the-clock care to try and survive. Against all odds and his family's advice, he hires Driss, a huge Senegalese-born young hoodlum from the "banlieue" just out of prison for petty crime, with no experience but a quick wit and an irresistible laugh. Driss becomes his boss's lifeline, his ally, his friend, the only one able to make him feel like wanting to live again.

There is no pathos in the movie, and none of the stereotypes to be expected from such a scenario. The poor do not blame the rich for their condition, the aristocrat in his elegant mansion is not held responsible for the crowded slums and the drug trafficking in the suburbs. When Driss drives his boss's car to watch the woman who raised him clean the windows of a hospital to earn her modest living, he doesn't smash the Maserati just to make a protest.

Well-written and wonderfully played by Omar Sy and Francois Cluzet, the film relies on simple, good-humored cultural gaps: The scene where Driss has to take Philippe to the opera and sit through four hours of Wagner is hilarious. …

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