While THE ARTIST and its lead actor Jean DuJardin have dominated the headlines in recent months, another French film has actually proven to be a major milestone for contemporary French cinema. THE UNTOUCHABLES (INTOUCHABLES) has been a box office phenomenon in its country since its release, becoming the second biggest box office draw for a French film in history. To cap it off, the film’s co-star Omar Sy has become the first black man to receive the Best Actor Cesar (the French Oscar)….a kind of Sidney Poitier moment for Gallic cinema. The film, which will be distributed in North America by the highflying THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY, makes its U.S. Premiere this week as the Opening Night Film of the Rendez-Vous With French Cinema festival in New York City.
In the film, which the Weinsteins also plan on remaking into an American version, a rich, white quadriplegic (Francois Cluzet) hires Driss, a black man from the projects (Omar Sy) to be his caretaker. In the process, each learns more about the other’s culture, although the rich employer is an arrogant pig of the French nobility who thinks of his caretakers as semi-slaves. When he hires Driss, has just been released from prison for robbery, he more than meets his match. The young man’s work ethic and infectious bonhomie makes him indispensable to the stolid household, with the directors using the set up to make interesting observations on the class divide in contemporary France, while also setting up tasty zingers of modern art, opera and “high” culture. In the film’s climax and most joyful moment, Driss “gets down” on the dance floor by showing his employer some of his smooth dance moves, which of course display his sense of joie de vivre despite his difficult economic circumstances and rough and tumble past.
The film has been criticized for its laxity on racial stereotypes but the human connection here is quite truthful. Audiences in France and Europe have responded positively to the theme that everyone is worthy of consideration and capable of change. Cluzet plays his role of the stodgy bourgeois to perfection but it is Sy who really brings liveliness and a sense of purpose to the film. He is a winning actor who should have a strong career in France and perhaps overseas. In his own way, he has already broken through the glass ceiling with his award win. For more information on this and other films in the Rendez-Vous With French Cinema series, visit: www.rendezvouswithfrenchcinema.com