Film Follies, Subtitle Subversive

Subtitle Subversives-Intouchables

It is a fact of life that sometimes we set our expectations a little too high and, as a result, end up disappointed with something we might have been satisfied with if we’d gone in with no expectations at all. I have been waiting to watch this month’s entry of Subtitle Subversives for a while and was well aware of the numerous awards and top list considerations it had garnered. But while I don’t take the Subversive part of Subtitle Subversive too seriously, it is usually my goal to showcase movies here that set themselves apart from the formulaic Hollywood studio approach. The Intouchables is not one of those movies.
A french film based on a true story, the movie showcases the unlikely friendship of an uptight, white, paraplegic aristocrat and his straight-out-of-the-hood, black, ex-con caretaker. Only two things keep this film from being a cloying, misguided, and at times inadvertently racist attempt at the black guy helps white guy loosen up Hollywood formula cliche; the earnest charm of the films two leads and the fact that everyone is speaking french.
I’m not saying the movie is terrible. If you’re having a bad day and want a feel good movie that you don’t have to think too deeply about this is an excellent choice. As I stated above François Cluzet and Omar Sy submit wonderfully charming performances as Philippe and Driss, respectively. You will laugh, you will smile, and you will feel that little pain in your chest when things seem to not be going well. But the further you get from having seen the film, the more you realize just how shallow the whole endeavor was. The movie never really grapples with Phillipe’s condition and mortality nor with the rough circumstance surrounding Driss’ upbringing. And the extent of their cultural clash seems to be that Phillipe prefers Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Driss loves him some Earth, Wind, and Fire.
I was further annoyed when I found out that the real life Abdel, upon whom Driss is based, was actually Algerian and not Somalian. This may not seem a big difference but to me it ignores an opportunity to explore the real cultural conflicts of a french aristocrat and an Algerian immigrant in favor of playing up the stereotypes invoked when you cast a French-African of a darker skin tone who’s people have less historical animosity with the French than the Algerians.
Overall, The Intouchables is a marvelously charming movie; so long as you avoid attempting to apply an critical though or real analysis to the film. Hopefully the next time we check in with French cinema we’ll get something with a little more heft to it. Until then, that’s it for this edition of Subtitle Subversives.

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