Thursday, February 9, 2012
On the French Film 'Intouchables'
Last weekend I went to the movies to see 'Intouchables' (2011). I consciously avoided any information about the film before seeing it. I knew it was a major box office succes in France although it is a rather low budget production. I very much enjoyed it and wouldn't want to reveal too much about the film. The best way to enjoy a film is not to know anything in advance.
However, after seeing the film I went online to read some critics. European critics are full of praise for this little film. It is some kind of a feel good tragic comedy showing a glimpse of humanity's beauty. White and Black French alike, love the film. Even in (Francophone) Africa it is a great succes.
The American perspective is different though. For Jay Weissberg from Variety it was of a very different kind of movie: 'Intouchables' is pure racism. (Read his article here)
The main actor is Omar Sy, a black French, who plays the character of Driss, a young black man from the Paris projects with not much of a future before him. It is true that the film is full of clichés and racial stereotypes. As the film is rather kind than harsh (such as the classic 'La Haine' from 1995, watch the trailer here) it seems from this perspective that the film is a French version of Uncle Tom's Cabin. But I don't think that's what the film is about. Race is used to accentuate differences but race is not the subject of the film. 'Untouchables' is about lonely human beings with very different backgrounds finding friendship and love. However, Variety sees race as the center element of the film.
A more nuanced article can be read here.
Below the trailer, don't watch it if you want to see the film with fresh eyes.
For me a film like District B13 aka Banlieue 13 (2004) and its sequel are much more racist. But nobody cares about that. All main characters are white although the Banlieues (projects in France) are inhabited by a majority of blacks and Arabs. Among the secondary characters there is a majority of blacks. However, these characters are not persons, just decor. While there is a lot of violence and killing going on, mostly black people get killed. B13 is a bad movie of course, just a violent big budget French flick. And race is not the theme of the film either, it's all about special effects and impressive parkour acrobatics. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be aware of the racism that is permeated throughout the whole production.