It seems an unlikely hit—a French comedy about a quadriplegic—but Untouchable (2012) is now the number one top-grossing French-produced film ever made. Worldwide it has sold three times as many tickets as the Oscar-winning The Artist, its closest competitor. Directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, astonishingly this film, which has grossed over $366m, was made on a shoestring budget of $10.5m.
What could be the secret of its success? Well, for a start, it’s a very good film: bleakly comic, heart warming and tragic all at the same time. The plot centres on a wealthy upper-class man, Philippe (Francois Cluzet) who has been left completely paralysed from the neck down. Unable to come to terms with his new life, he alienates those around him, and gets through personal carers in record time. At the latest round of interview screenings (brilliantly depicted with throwaway lines) he meets Driss (Omar Sy), a disadvantaged immigrant, petty thief and ex-con. Driss has been forced into applying for a job he knows he won’t get, so he can claim benefits. Despite his rough edges—or is it because of them?—Philippe sees something in him, and employs him against the advice of his friends, family and carers.
The plot of the film is simple, even predictable, but being able to guess what is likely to happen does not detract from watching it unfold. From the growing friendship of these two characters, both with their own problems and disadvantages, a true camaraderie is born. Driss never sees Philippe as disabled—sometimes to the point of shockingly comic callousness—and Philippe revels in being treated without deference, and as a human being, instead of as an invalid. At the same time Philippe has a massive impact on Driss. But how long can such a tenuous relationship last?
What makes this film so extraordinary is that it is not just manufactured rags-to-riches Hollywood-style fluff. It is based on a true story, and the film highlights this very cleverly at the end. But even beyond this fact what shines though is the quality of the acting and the way the film allows the audience to laugh at some of the more ludicrous problems of those who live with such disabilities, but in doing so it provides a deeper and truer understanding of what they have to face up to on an hourly or daily basis.
Untouchable is a film that is truly worth seeing, and one that is enjoying very well deserved global success.
Written by Julian Harris.