Eternality Tan
by Eternality Tan

“100 euros says I can lose them.”
“You're on."

So, it begins in medias res as a man makes a bet with his boss that he will lose the cops chasing them in their Maserati. It is an exciting prologue, full of wit and unexpected moments. We also sense something special between the duo, a chemistry marked by a deep friendship.

Based on a true story, though I suspect much of the events in the film have been dramatized for cinematic effect, Untouchable is a French drama masquerading as a comedy. It is one of the few hits from the country that made waves internationally in a big way—one probably has to go back to 2001’s Amelie, by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, for a French film to have made such an impact.  

There’s no Audrey Tautou in this one, so it is a surprise to see the movie doing so well without any major stars, French or otherwise. Such is the momentum of its popularity, particularly in America, that Untouchable even snagged a Golden Globe berth as a nominee representing France in the Best Foreign Language Film category in 2013.

Starring François Cluzet as Philippe, a mega-rich man who suffers a paralysing injury after a paragliding accident, and Omar Sy as Driss, his reluctant caregiver who becomes his friend for life, Untouchable is a very sweet film between two men who found in each other someone whom they could trust and admire without any false pretences.  

It could have been a heavy, overbearing drama about a wheelchair-bound guy with suicidal thoughts, and a downbeat caregiver who loses hope. But instead, it is envisioned as a feel-good movie. In fact, in one scene, Philippe observes that because he is paralyzed from the neck down, he cannot even kill himself: a remark said so casually, and with a smirk encapsulating the tone of the movie, that this self-depreciating comedy carries with it bearable lightness of being.  

Much of Untouchable focuses on the daily exploits of the duo. Driss’ probation period as he tries to learn to be a selfless caregiver gives us some of the film’s most hilarious moments. His constant flirtation with Philippe’s secretary also serve generous portions of comedy.

The film’s main strength truly lies in Sy’s performance, whose embodiment of Driss as a noisy and nosy black man gives the story forward momentum. It feels as if this heartwarming journey is charted wholeheartedly by him, with Philippe as his willing passenger (paralleling the prologue which not just foreshadows what is to come for the narrative, but is also the very epitome of their delirious friendship).

Some may feel that Untouchable is way too sentimental and saccharine in its treatment of story and character, and there is a strong case for it coming across as an overrated schmaltz. Those criticisms are certainly valid. So are other arguments against the film’s overt racial condescension, where a black man, uncouth and provincial, must liberate the white, immobile man, but not before being tamed by white notions of artistic pompousness.


However, the key here is that the directors, Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano (they have co-directed six features to date), have intentionally left subtlety and nuance out of the window. There is no undercurrent of pity or sympathy between Philippe and Driss—they are equals, highly dependent on one another, in hopes that their lives will play out for the better.

There will be a Hollywood remake (duh!) to be released in 2018, starring Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart—there’s no guessing who’s playing which role. Nicole Kidman also stars. That will be the delirium of friendship, in star-studded American style. But for now, this French original should whet your appetite.