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Stars: Francois Cluzet, Omar Sy, Anne Le Ny, Audrey Fleurot, Clothilde Mollet, Alba Gaia Bellugi, Cyril Mendy, Christian Ameri, Marie-Laure Descoureaux, Gregoire Oestermann, Jean-Francois Cayrey.

Director: Eric Toledano, Olivier Nakache

Odd couple/buddy movies have long been a cinema staple, among them Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy (the best), Paul Newman and Robert Redford as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby on their several ‘On the Road’ celluloid safaris, The Bucket List and (in drag) Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in Some Like it Hot.

Now, in the biggest French box-office success to date, and a film sensibly chosen as France’s 2013 Oscar entry, François Cluzet and Omar Sy give perfect performances in an utterly delightful odd couple film based on a true story (we see the real protagonists at the end). Thanks to meticulous scripting and direction by Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache, Untouchable emerges as funny and moving by turns, but never maudlin and a real pleasure.

Toledano and Nakache set the irreverent tone right at the start when Sy, hauled over by the police for his terrible driving, bets his millionaire charge Cluzet, who is paraplegic and able only to move his features, that for 200 euros he can not only get out of their predicament but have the police escort them to a hospital. And, thanks to the combination of Cluzet’s impressive fake fit and Sy’s fast-taking invention, police sirens clear the way for Sy to reach the hospital without holdups. After which, the devious couple head home…

Senegalese-born Sy’s backstory as a petty ex-con whose criminal smarts stand him in good stead off the streets, is neatly used for contrasting drama when Sy becomes millionaire Cluzet’s caretaker despite such caveats as “I’m not emptying anyone’s ass”, and his sceptical use of a kettle of hot water to confirm Cluzet has no feeling in his legs.

The sarcastic blend of genuine emotion and caustic black humour generated by the rogue carer and his surprisingly laid-back employer is perfectly judged on both sides of the camera. When Sy gives Cluzet a reefer to mute his discomfort, the result is moving rather than disgraceful and it’s not hard to laugh when, during a visit to the opera, deeply disgruntled Sy (playing a nut at the opera?) is shocked by what he sees on stage and complains bitterly, “It’s a tree. A singing tree!”

Sy even acts as Cupid when Cluzet starts seeking a new love and finds a woman described by Sy as, “The only woman in Dunkirk with all her teeth”.

Untouchable (Untouchables in France) emerges as joyously life affirming, funny, and movingly emotional.

Alan Frank

France 2011. UK Distributor: Entertainment Film Distributors. Colour.
112 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 2, Swearing 2.

Review date: 23 Sep 2012