Film Review: ‘Untouchable’

Though never known for their subtlety, French co-helmers/scripters Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache have never delivered a film as offensive as "Untouchable," which flings about the kind of Uncle Tom racism one hopes has permanently exited American screens.

Though never known for their subtlety, French co-helmers/scripters Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache have never delivered a film as offensive as “Untouchable,” which flings about the kind of Uncle Tom racism one hopes has permanently exited American screens. The Weinstein Co., which has bought remake rights, will need to commission a massive rewrite to make palatable this cringe-worthy comedy about a rich, white quadriplegic hiring a black man from the projects to be his caretaker, exposing him to “culture” while learning to loosen up. Sadly, this claptrap will do boffo Euro biz.

“Untouchable” proudly states it’s based on a true story, though tellingly, the caretaker in real life is Arab, not black. Fabulously wealthy Philippe (Francois Cluzet) was in a paragliding accident some years earlier and can’t move from the neck down. His wife has died; his adopted daughter, Elisa (Alba Gaia Bellugi), is a snot-nosed teen; and his staff keeps him coddled in an upper-class cocoon.

But Philippe goes through caretakers like water. Applying for the new opening is Driss (Omar Sy), a guy just out of the slammer after a six-month stint for robbery; he only turns up because he needs a signature on the rejection slip to make him eligible for unemployment benefits. To the surprise of personal secretary Magalie (Audrey Fleurot), Philippe hires the lanky, unflappable Driss, knowing he’ll be entertained if nothing else.

Driss’ infectious bonhomie makes him indispensable to Philippe, encouraging him in romance and generally blowing fresh air into the stolid household with his crude but warmhearted manners. The helmers, as usual (“Those Happy Days,” “So Happy Together … “) stock up on plenty of gags, taking hoary potshots at modern art, opera and “high” culture (think “Trading Places,” but less subtle) via the very tired idea that a black man from the wrong side of town could only ridicule such things.

In fact, Driss is treated as nothing but a performing monkey (with all the racist associations of such a term), teaching the stuck-up white folk how to get “down” by replacing Vivaldi with “Boogie Wonderland” and showing off his moves on the dance floor. It’s painful to see Sy, a joyfully charismatic performer, in a role barely removed from the jolly house slave of yore, entertaining the master while embodying all the usual stereotypes about class and race.

The nadir comes when Driss dons a suit and Magalie tells him he looks like President Obama, as if the only black man in a suit could be the president; what’s so distressing is that the writers mean for the line to be tender and funny. (For the record, Sy and Obama look nothing alike.)

It’s all supposed to induce laughs, and since Sy is such a winning actor and the jokes rarely let up, “Untouchable” may seduce unthinking auds with an infectious breeziness. Incidental music shamelessly plays on emotions, while sampled songs provide atmosphere; the famously prickly Nina Simone, whose “Feeling Good” is included, would not be pleased.

Film Review: 'Untouchable'

France

Production

A Gaumont release and presentation of a Quad, Gaumont, TF1 Films, Ten Films, Chaocorp production, with the participation of Canal Plus, Cinecinema. (International sales: Gaumont, Paris.) Produced by Nicolas Duval Adassovsky, Yann Zenou, Laurent Zeitoun. Directed, written by Eric Toledano, Olivier Nakache.

Crew

Camera (color), Mathieu Vadepied; editor, Dorian Rigal-Ansous; music, Ludovico Einaudi; production designer, Francois Emmanuelli; costume designer, Isabelle Pannetier; sound (Dolby Digital), Pascal Armant, Jean Goudier; line producer, Laurent Sivot; assistant director, Herve Ruet; casting, Gigi Akoka. Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (noncompeting, closer), Sept. 23, 2011. Running time: 110 MIN.

With

With: Francois Cluzet, Omar Sy, Anne Le Ny, Audrey Fleurot, Clothilde Mollet, Alba Gaia Bellugi, Cyril Mendy, Christian Ameri, Marie-Laure Descoureaux, Gregoire Oestermann, Jean-Francois Cayrey.

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  1. Ennio says:

    O you’re bitching about this? aawwww so cute, I’m seeing this like 6 years after bur it so cute that you get your balls disturbed so easy, this is storytelling and in this film its done magnificently. I mean you’re insulted by things like the Barack Obama scene. come on really, REALLY? Send this “little girls” back to wonderland, give them a pony and cotton candy. que culeros.

  2. Bettina says:

    I can totally relate to the sentiments expressed in the review. The film portrays a black man as jolly, virile and uneducated, thus using some of the worst stereotypes. I’m European, but why this film was such a huge success over here mystifies me. Perhaps it’s the idea that the underprivileged are basically harmless and good-natured and therefore they are no threat for the establishment that appeals to the audience.

  3. Thomas Nox says:

    You have to be racist Jay Weissberg seeing racism in movie like Untouchables.

  4. Marcel says:

    What the f are you talking about????

    RACIST?? You f libtard!

  5. Gordak says:

    You should seriously read the definition of the word racism again. It really pains me to read this critic, because it feels like the author is trying to use a baselball bat to open a lock. If it doesn’t fit, don’t use it !

  6. Nathan Jones says:

    I was going to leave a comment expressing my disbelief in your credibility as a movie critic… but the numerous replies that already exist are sufficient.

    Quit your day job.

  7. Bob Pepper says:

    Your review of the Intouchables has revealed you as a
    racist! Look at the review, & think it over, just insert poor & uneducated
    for black. This movie was the most uplifting
    film I have seen in years about friendship – period. I will not try your reviews again.

  8. Mason Anderson says:

    Also, I believe you and your “Rotten Tomatoes” crew are the people behind the unexplainably high ratings on films such as “It Follows” and “Birdman”. Those were both boring films with the only redeeming quality being a few audio and visual gimmicks.

  9. Mason Anderson says:

    First of all it’s called “The Intouchables” not “Untouchables” I don’t even believe you have seen this movie and also don’t believe you understand the concept of racism. This film might not be a direct adaptation of the real life story. But that does not divert from the fact this film has an excellent cast, a believable and rich story along side beautiful shots and techniques. The remark you made on the “Obama” scene. You don’t even remark on the fact that he saw it as racism, and remarked on the man next to him looking like Nixon or Bush. What I find distressing about YOUR review is the fact you are so enveloped on the idea of racism. Just because a black man plays as “the help” You think that it is to represent black people as slaves.

    I would like to hear back from such a highly regarded film critic and I would love a lost of your top 10 films. Or films you enjoy in general

  10. Nofreakingway says:

    Americans are that stupid. Sad.

  11. ????? says:

    You are a dumb prick.
    How is that movie offensive?
    And why are you allowed to write movie reviews, when you have clearly no understanding of what a quality movie is.

  12. Jonathan says:

    I have seen the film Intouchables (2011) many a time since my time in college, majoring in French and Spanish, and have always found it to be the most hilarious film ever made! The casting was amazing; the delivery, absolutely perfect. Indeed, we must remember that the film was nominated for countless awards and that one of the main actors—Omar Sy — even won the César Award for Best Actor (the equivalent of our Oscars), a feat which testifies to the quality of the acting and to the overall reception of the film, in France and abroad.

    Nonetheless, in order to understand and to appreciate the film’s humor, and how it is not just another racist film in solely American terms, we must take note that France does not share the same history as the United States, especially when it comes to slavery in terms of a black-white dichotomy, as our national discourse and own American-centric prejudices would like us to believe that is the case for the rest of the world. In this manner, I do agree with the comments posted below: the film is meant to draw laughs and to depict the journey of two men learning mutually about life and about that which is meaningful in it.

    While I do not wish to chastise the author of this article, for this article alone, as he does make many valid points and does encourage us to think critically of the film, I strongly feel that writing a commentary and a social critique about a foreign film should not be undertaken under a complete American lens. Not only does such an action show a lack of professionalism—google alone can take people places and teach one so much—, but it shows a lack of originality. It could have been just as conceivable to tackle the same ideas presented in the article, however, with a lean towards educating people about how misinterpretation can easily occur without just cause. Thank you.

    • Ryan says:

      Thank you. You wrote what I had in mind when I read this article. You are so right.

      Of course, a critic’s article is subjective, but the critic is looking at this movie from an all wrong perspective.

      I guess the critic may have some valid points but I think the main arguments being held, are a misinterpretation.

      Untouchable is a wonderful complete film. It has a beautiful story which will touch you and make you laugh. As well as the main actors as the music by Ludovico Einaudi, fit perfectly in the picture that the filmmakers had in mind.

      Watch this movie anytime with anybody and it will leave you with an overall feeling of joy.

  13. Stein says:

    What an complete d*ckhead you are. People like you who are just searching for racism in everything. Does the movie portray him as a criminal? No! Everybody loves him. He gives everyone a good feeling. The world doesnt need people like you. Searching for offensive things in literally EVERYTHING.

  14. Alex says:

    This movie is about not taking life too seriously and about a genuine and unexpected growing friendship, apparently we did not watch the same movie judging by this appalling critics…

  15. Bella says:

    This film is about Philippe learning to enjoy life again. Both the characters suffer from prejudice and the film highlights that appearances are not what matters in life and that a true friendship can be formed between two people from entirely different backgrounds.

  16. Stefan Martens says:

    What is racism? This Film about two guys who gave “each other” a new meaning of life?
    Or this narrow minded liberal critic?

  17. russofrevo says:

    Wow.. talk about projecting your prejudices. You are right, a black guy that can dance and a frozen stiff white rich guy has no basis in reality, it must be racism! what else could it be! American liberals are always offended on someone else’s behalf.

  18. Christian V says:

    You take this film (and yourself) waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyyyy too seriously…

    Sad man.

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