Starring: Francois Cluzet, Omar Sy, Anne Le Ny, and Audrey Fleurot
Distributor: Roadshow Films
Runtime: 112 mins. Reviewed in Oct 2012
This subtitled French film tells the story of a very wealthy Parisian, Philippe (Francois Cluzet), who becomes a quadriplegic after a tragic paragliding accident. He comes to be looked after caringly by a Senegalese immigrant, Driss (Omar Sy). The film was the highest-grossing film at the French box-office in the last year, and is based loosely on the autobiographical memoir, “You Changed My Life” by Abdel Sellou.
Films about unusual attachments across class, as this one is, routinely tap into stories about the growing affection of someone who is well off in life for someone, far less fortunate than themselves, who they choose to help. This film reverses the plot, and is immensely rewarding for doing so. Philippe is disabled, rich, white, and uptight, while Driss is free of constraint, poor, black, and full of life. Despite all these differences, they become close companions.
After his accident, Philippe has to have live-in-care, and someone has to be found. Those looking after him at home are anxious, and his rebellious, adolescent daughter (Anne Le Ny) is no help. He is hard to get on with, temperamentally tricky, and very demanding. Driss turns up for interview, fresh out of prison for theft, and he does not want the job. He goes through the motions of looking as if he wants work, simply so that he can collect his welfare payments. Much to his surprise, he is offered the position. Philippe hires him, because he likes his bluntness and total absence of pity. Initially, Driss’s crassness offends, and he tries to seduce Philippe’s secretary, Magalie (Audrey Fleurot). But then things change.
Driss gives Philippe new things to look forward to in life. He encourages Philippe to loosen up, introduces him to marijuana, and to start thinking about dating, while Philippe tries to get Driss to appreciate the more cultured things of life that he knows Driss has never had. In the course of doing so, there are some delightful sends-up of high culture and its pretensions. The movie is not about a poor, black man wanting respect, but about a privileged, white man, wanting vibrancy in life and joie de vivre. Driss, for example, rejects the strains of Vivaldi’s music played to him by Philippe, and then proceeds to capture Philippe and all those around him emotionally by his liquid body dancing to Boogie music. The dancing scene is one of a number of exhilarating moments in a surprisingly entertaining movie that has quite a few of them.
The film tackles the relationship between the two men with complete intimacy and honesty. Through their unlikely coming together, the friendship between them becomes a celebration of life worth living. In an interaction that starts off awkwardly, their understanding of each other blossoms and matures.
This is a movie that is crafted well. The scripting behind the movie is a little cliché, it plays routinely with racial stereotypes, has some sugary moments, but the film has irresistible charm. For the movie to work, the chemistry between Philippe and Driss must be just right, and it is. Cluzet and Sy complement each other extremely well, and both of them give performances that have great warmth.
The movie carries a strong message about class, disability, and race that deserves to be heard: no matter who people are, or what are their appearances, we should always be open to what others are able to do, and to be. The movie might use comedy to defuse concern about genuine race issues, and it makes (gentle) fun of disability, but it shows inequality happily breaking down for two very different individuals, who bring out the best in each other.
This is a highly enjoyable movie about friendship and trust, and what can happen if we let the values they embody fill our lives. Although light in tone and unsophisticated, it is disarmingly honest and spontaneous in what it says about the meaning of companionship and human closeness.
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