Pras on World Films: THE INTOUCHABLES

The Intouchables is an award  starring Omar Sy and Francois Cluzet. A moving true story of 2 men – a quadriplegic aristocrat who was injured in a paragliding accident and a young man from the projects. When together, they’re inseparable, intouchable.

The film by French writer/directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, is the inspiring true story of two men who should never have met—a quadriplegic aristocrat who was injured in a paragliding accident and a young man from the projects. Its a portrait of friendship across the racial and economic divide. Francois Cluzet plays Philippe, who was paralyzed in a hang-gliding accident and now lives in a Parisian mansion attended by nervous servants. While interviewing new caregivers, Philippe meets Driss, a a tough young Senegalese man from the Paris projects  who’s only applying for the job so he can get his unemployment check. Impressed by Driss’ bluntness and lack of sympathy, Philippe hires Driss and moves him into his mansion, where Driss reluctantly learns his duties from the housemistress (played by Anne Le Ny) and in the process, helps Philippe to loosen up and embrace life. By making Driss and Philippe fully realized characters (the film is based on a true story) with histories and lots to learn about life and each other, The Intouchables manages to escape the trappings of the Magic Negro genre to be a film about an unlikely but wonderful friendship between actual humans.Its a a wildly successful French comedy that trades on racial cliches, manages to be charming and offensive at the same time.

They learn that sometimes you have to reach into someone else’s world to find what’s missing in your own. Not quite on doctor’s orders, And while Driss does help Philippe intouchablesembrace life beyond his disability, including a scene where Driss gets uptight white people at Philippe’s birthday party to boogie down to Earth, Wind, and Fire, it’s not a one-way exchange. Moving into Philippe’s mansion, Driss steps away from a background of poverty, family dysfunction and trouble with the police. Under his boss’s stern gaze and imperious tutelage he starts to acquire a work ethic and a sense of discipline. Through working with and spending time with Philippe, Driss surprises himself by becoming a much more caring and responsible person, realizing that there’s a bigger world out there and he has potential beyond hanging out and smoking weed with his friends. In exchange, he helps Philippe discover his appetite for life and his capacity for joy. He introduces Philippe to the pleasures of marijuana, encourages him to start dating and loosens up a stuffy chamber-music soiree with some funky music.

The Intouchables hit a nerve with French audiences, critics hailing it as a cultural milestone and Liberation asking, “Is this the new Amélie?” As Driss, television comedian Sy not only earned rave comparisons to Eddie Murphy but also took home the Best Actor Award at this year’s Césars, beating out none other than The Artist’s Jean Dujardin. In one of the best opening scenes in recent memory, a young black guy and an older white guy are slaloming through the streets of Paris in a Maserati with a parade of police on their tail.They’re clearly close friends, but what’s their story? How did they meet? What led to this impromptu high-speed chase? Funny you should ask … cue the film, which unreels as flashback.

In the old days the French view of America’s race problem (as it used to be called) was tinged with pity and superiority. African-American artists and intellectuals — Josephine Baker, Richard Wright, James Baldwin and too many jazz musicians to name — went to Paris to find respect and relief from the bigotry at home, and many contemporary French observers took this fact as confirmation of their own country’s relative innocence. More recently, as France has grappled with immigration and its rapidly evolving identity as a multicultural society, such smugness has dropped away, and much of the best recent French film and literature grapples earnestly with this new situation. America has a racial-guilt problem. France’s might be more insidious.  What “The Intouchables” does cannot exactly be called grappling, and its genial parade of stereotypes may be more regressive than liberating. Given its subject, embarrassment may be both inevitable and forgivable. Race, in France as in the United States, is a perpetual source of confusion and discomfort; to address it is always, in some way, to get it wrong. “The Intouchables” sets out to convert that anxiety into easy laughter and also, like “The Help” and “The Blind Side,” to replace antagonism and incomprehension with comfort and consensus.

the intouchables

“The film is about living together, about there being a French community rich in its differences and not in its exclusion,” explain Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, the youthful writing/directing team behind The Intouchables. The two key actors provide it with humanity and idiosyncrasy — with the sense that Philippe and Driss might be real people rather than sociological ciphers. The film shows that Driss is “real.” That’s part of the reason the movie is such a massive international hit. Driss represents the truth, and everyone else is fake. He’s been to prison and has been evicted by his mother for indolence; she’s got too many kids at home to put up with his distractions. In the end, “The Intouchables” wants to make race an afterthought — and it’s tempting to permit it. The characters positively ooze with a charisma that is infectious.

THE INTOUCHABLES  by writers/directors Olivier Nakache and Eric ToledanoSlide 6

We are overwhelmed by the reaction we have received from audiences around the world to The Intouchables, and it is with great anticipation that we bring this story to America. Our film’s message transcends race, age, religion and class, and that was clearly evident by the diverse crowds that went to see it.

The Intouchables is based on the true story of a highly unlikely friendship between Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, a white, quadriplegic millionaire, and Abdel Sellou, a young ex-con of Slide 5North-African origin, hired to be his live-in caregiver. The two men came from completely different backgrounds but learned to trust each other and develop a life-changing bond through honesty, mutual respect and subversive humor.   As filmmakers, we love having the creative freedom to transform a simple story like this one into a much larger message. It is very important to us to not only entertain but to be a part of something that starts smart conversation, and eventually leads to change. Today, it is more pertinent than ever to continue the conversations about the race and class issues in France.

Our aim was to make a feel-good film about friendship that would entertain audiences while maintaining the truth to Philippe’s and Abdel’s story. To our surprise the film has inspired an impassioned debate about one of France’s biggest social problems: socio-economic inequality between the privileged class and its marginalized neighbors, most of them having immigrant origins. An outpouring of articles, editorials, interviews and public discussions have pushed the subject into the bright glare of the media spotlight: immigrants and their direct descendants—from Morocco or Senegal, Algeria or Mali—are largely ghettoized in the projects outside of Paris with few opportunities to better their lives.

It would have been impossible to make a film this moving and entertaining without the genius of Omar Sy’s and François Cluzet’s performances. Both approached the roles as we approached making the film—with an open mind and a good sense of humor, and their chemistry off and on camera was remarkable.

We could not have predicted the overwhelming reception of The Intouchables in France. As the filmmakers of this tale of friendship, we set out to sketch an optimistic story in a realistic portrait of French society, one that combines the social and psychological gulf between French nativists and marginalized immigrants, between the upscale neighborhoods of Paris and the city’s poor suburbs. We hope you will enjoy this film with your own best friend or family.

Written and directed by Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache; director of photography, Mathieu Vadepied; edited by Dorian Rigal-Ansous; music by Ludovico Einaudi; production design by François Emmanuelli; costumes by Isabelle Pannetier; produced by Nicolas Duval Adassovsky, Yann Zenou and Laurent Zeitoun; released by the Weinstein Company. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 52 minutes.

WITH: François Cluzet (Philippe), Omar Sy (Driss), Anne Le Ny (Yvonne), Audrey Fleurot (Magalie), Clothilde Mollet (Marcelle), Alba Gaïa Bellugi (Elisa), Cyril Mendy (Adama), Christian Ameri (Albert), Marie-Laure Descoureaux (Chantal) and Gregoire Oestermann (Antoine).

YOU SAVED MY LIFE by Abdel Sellou    You Changed My Life(The Book That Inspired “The Intouchables”)        You Saved My Life tells the extraordinary true story of the charming Algerian con-man whose friendship with a disabled French aristocrat inspired the record-breaking hit film, The IntouchablesSellou’s fictional reincarnation, Driss, played to critical acclaim by French comedian Omar Sy in the movie Les Intouchables, captured the hearts of millions with his edgy charm. Already a bestseller in France and Germany, You Changed My Life shows us the real man behind Sy’s smiling face. The book takes us from his childhood spent stealing candy from the local grocery store, to his career as a pickpocket and scam artist, to his unexpected employment as a companion for a quadriplegic.

Sellou has never before divulged the details of his past.  In many interviews and documentaries, he has evaded or shrugged off the question of his childhood and his stay in prison, until now. He tells his story with a stunning amount of talent, with humor, style, and—though he denies that he has any—humility. Sellou’s idiosyncratic and candidly charming voice. Abdel Sellou now lives in Algeria with his wife and three children, where he runs a chicken farm. He remains close to Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, who lives in Morocco with his second wife and two children.  

Pras on World Films: THE SCRET OF THE GRAIN (“La Graine et le Mulet”)

Movies about food and family have become a genre unto themselves and, in many cases, sadly clichéd. But there’s a freshness to Abdellatif Kechiche’s The Secret of the Grain (a.k.a. La graine et la mulet), the deserving winner of four César awards. Kechiche  (L’Esquive) brings an earnestness and rigor and cultural authenticity to his intergenerational drama, but more importantly, he captures the emotional rhythms of an extended family at its best (love and support) and worst (pettiness and neglect).

Slimane Beiji, the sad, still center of “The Secret of the Grain,” Abdellatif Kechiche’s bustling and brilliant new film, might be described as an accidental patriarch. A stubborn, taciturn immigrant from Tunisia, Slimane (Habib Boufares) has spent 35 years working in the shipyards of Sète, a rough little French port city on the Mediterranean coast. The other members of his large, cantankerous family — his former wife, Souad (Bouraouïa Marzouk), and their assorted children and grandchildren — live mostly in a battered high-rise housing project.

Slimane, meanwhile, keeps a modest room in the blue-collar hotel run by his lover, Latifa (Hatika Karaoui), and her 20-year-old daughter, Rym (the amazing Hafsia Herzi), on whom he dotes as if she were his own. The chief token of his benevolence is the fish Slimane collects from his fisherman buddies and dutifully delivers on his motorbike to the important women in his life: Souad; his older daughter, Karima (Faridah Benkhetache); and Latifa. Their freezers are overflowing with the mullet that is, in Tunisian tradition, served with couscous, the grain of this film’s title. When Souad cooks up a batch to feed various kids, friends and in-laws, she puts aside a serving for Slimane, who eats it in the spartan quarters he shares with a semimetaphorical caged bird. The kids tease their mother that Slimane’s fish-delivering visits and her cooking of couscous and fish for him signify an undying love.

These are the two delicacies—specialties of the house—that send the French-Arab family into ecstasy and encourage recently downsized sixty-one-year-old Slimane Beiji (Habib Boufares) to open a portside restaurant on a junked ship.

Since Slimane’s hopeful project of leaving the restaurant as a legacy for his children hinges largely on the celebrated cooking of Souad, Latifa is hurt and wary the closer Slimane gets to achieving the dream (it doesn’t help her ego that she’s a bad cook). Rym, on the other hand, gives unconditional support to Slimane, serving as his translator and business associate as they navigate the terrible bureaucratic hurdles endemic to opening a restaurant (Rym also acknowledges the greatness of the food, saying, “When there’s couscous like this, the world disappears”). More family drama comes from the worst-kept-secret of Majid’s philandering (despite having a newborn), which makes an emotional mess of his Russian wife Julia (Alice Houri). The issues converge in the extended climax that is the film’s third act: a test evening for the restaurant that has the city’s movers and shakers—the ones who can make or break the restaurant—impatiently awaiting the couscous and fish they’ve heard so much about.

The richness of “The Secret of the Grain” lies in the close, tireless, enthusiastic attention it pays to the most mundane daily tasks, especially those involving food.operators, among others.  In France, where the movie won four César awards earlier this year, the secret is omitted, and the film is known simply as “La Graine et le Mulet.”

Though the story lightly touches on issues of Arab integration in the notion of struggling to get approval to take an open spot on the coveted quai de la République (the waterfront of the Republic), the film’s engaging textures mostly come back to food and family. Despite many of the actors being non-professionals, the characters are thoroughly believable. Houri has an amazing tear-laced rant about Majid, and Herzi astonishes with a heroic belly-dance, but it’s not only the pyrotechnics that impress: playing a role intended for Kechiche’s real-life father (who passed away before production), Boufares makes Slimane’s quiet determination resonate, especially as it grows quietly fretful. The soul of the picture is the father’s sacrifice for his family, and when the film, as it must, comes to an end after two and a half hours, you won’t be ready; the bond made to this family makes its sudden absence feel downright brutal.

Mr. Kechiche started out as an actor and has established himself, after directing three features (“La Faute à Voltaire” and “L’Esquive” before this one), as one of the most vital and interesting filmmakers working in France today. In “The Secret of the Grain” he immerses us in the hectic, tender, sometimes painful details of work and domesticity. The camera bobs and fidgets in crowded rooms full of noisy people, so that your senses are flooded with the warmth and stickiness of Slimane and Souad’s family circle. The scenes, though they feel improvised, at times almost accidentally recorded, have a syncopated authenticity for which the sturdy old word realism seems inadequate.

Hafsia Herzi, left, and Habib Boufares in “The Secret of the Grain.”

Not many directors would linger so long, for example, over a toilet-training-related battle of wills between a mother and her 2-year-old, and then pause later to observe a discussion of the same subject among a group of adults at a party. But when Mr. Kechiche does just that, you may wonder why so few have bothered before. After all, the messy particulars of child rearing preoccupy every family in every culture and provide an inexhaustible vein of humor, anxiety and contention.

And the richness of “The Secret of the Grain” — the secret, as it were, of its deep and complex flavor — lies in the close, tireless, enthusiastic attention it pays to the most mundane daily tasks, especially those involving food.

The depth of Mr. Kechiche’s humanism and his subtle insights into the political dimensions of ordinary experience link his film to the great works of late-period Neo-Realism, even if his anarchic methods have more in common with those of a post-’60s skeptical realist like Mike Leigh than with the old Italian masters. “The Secret of the Grain” is in some ways the descendant of a movie like “Rocco and His Brothers,” Luchino Visconti’s long, gloriously novelistic 1960 melodrama about a family of migrants that travels from southern Italy to work in the factories of the north.

In the background of “The Secret of the Grain” is a similar migration that began in the 1960s, when men and women like Slimane and Souad left the newly liberated North African French colonies to seek their fortunes in metropolitan France, a country they regarded as both benefactor and oppressor. In the decades since, France has reluctantly claimed them and their children as citizens, even as it has stigmatized and marginalized them, and this mutual ambivalence is the implicit subject of this movie and its unstated context. (Mr. Kechiche was born in Tunis in 1960.)

But as he did in “L’Esquive,” in which the exalted idiom of Classical French literature collided and commingled with the polyglot vernacular of the modern French suburbs, Mr. Kechiche declines to dole out obvious, easily assimilated lessons.

Life is just too complicated, too unpredictable, too hard and too fascinating. Even as Slimane’s story is one of frustration and unfulfilled ambition — after his hours at the shipyard are cut back, he pursues the quixotic dream of converting an abandoned boat into a dockside couscous restaurant — “The Secret of the Grain” bursts with exuberance and irrepressible sensuality. This is mostly thanks to the women in the movie, who through charm, guile and sheer force of will turn the austere fable of their melancholy paterfamilias into a party. It is not that they are naturally carefree but rather that their cares are so tightly woven into their lives that the only practical alternative to despair is an unruly, militant joy.

Karima, Souad and Rym are at once Slimane’s foils — their bodies are as curvy as his is gaunt, while their frank, abundant talk serves as counterpoint to his decorous silence — and the pillars on which he leans for support. They protect his dignity by declining to point out just how much he depends on them, and allowing him to believe that the opposite is true.

The pathos of Slimane’s story (as well as the accomplishment of Mr. Boufares’s performance) arises partly from the understanding that this man, so committed to the idea of his own strength and resilience, is in the end so fragile.

To put it in slightly different terms, you could say that Slimane’s tragedy is that, having worked so hard for so long, he is left with so little. The couscous restaurant represents his last stand, his grand gesture of protest against a hard fate, and its opening night, teetering on the tightrope between triumph and calamity, is Mr. Kechiche’s tour de force.

An entire family chronicle, along with four decades of French social and economic history, is recapitulated as a lavish, hectic dinner, complete with music and belly dancing. It will leave you stunned and sated, having savored an intimate and sumptuous epic of elation and defeat, jealousy and tenderness, life and death, grain and fish.

Written and directed by Abdellatif Kechiche; director of photography, Lubomir Bakchev; edited by Ghalya Lacroix and Camille Toubkis; produced by Claude Berri; released by IFC Films.

WITH: Habib Boufares (Slimane), Hafsia Herzi (Rym), Faridah Benkhetache (Karima), Abdelhamid Aktouche (Hamid), Bouraouïa Marzouk (Souad), Hatika Karaoui (Latifa) and Alice Houri (Julia).

Title: The Secret of the Grain
Running Time: 151 MinutesStatus: Released
Country: France
Genre: Drama, Family, Foreign