A French movie about a quadriplegic who hires a thuggish black dude to take care of him. What could possibly go wrong? Seriously, if you encapsulated this film, I would rank it just slightly below their new Marie Antoinette film (Farewell, My Queen) on films I wouldn’t want to see.
And yet, this is a delight.
Quadriplegia wouldn’t seem like a great topic for movies but it has always treated me pretty well. Murderball, The Sea Inside are two of the best movies of their respective years. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was a critical success, and was a very well done film, though it reeked of Boomer sensibilities.
This isn’t quite Murderball but it has the same kind of insouciance.
Francois Cluzet (whom I last saw in the noir Tell No One) plays the wealthy wheelchair-bound man who, after interviewing caretakers in a long string of compassionate weenies, hires a thuggish ghetto criminal who was just pretending to interview so he could get his “benefit”.
This movie is about the friendship that forms between the two of them, and what’s remarkable is how many ways this story could go wrong. Not only does this film never strike a false note, it glides easily through the story as if there weren’t any ways to go wrong.
This might be because it’s inspired by a true story. (I mean, “true story” isn’t always just a marketing gimmick.)
Behind the buddy story is the dual tales of redemption. Driss (Omar Sy) is a lowlife and thief whose own mother (er, stepmother? adoptive mother? I couldn’t figure it out) kicks him out of the project apartment he lives in with his innumerable siblings. On his interview with Philippe (Cluzet) he steals a Fabergé egg.
Philippe is understandably suicidal, though as we find out, it was this tendency that put him in the wheelchair. And what’s interesting is that it’s not Driss’s “keepin’ it real” attitude that reaches him, it’s Driss’ complete inability to comprehend and empathize with Philippe’s disability.
He doesn’t load Philippe into the handicap-accessible hybrid minivan-like thing, he throws the wheelchair in the back of the Maserati (or whatever) and Philippe in the passenger seat, and screams around Paris at unsafe speeds.
He’s squeamish about cleaning Philippe off, and he’s interested in Philippe’s potential for enjoying physical relationships. He has nothing much to lose, really, so he never has the deference toward this very wealthy man that everyone else around him does.
There’s a little bit of the “culture clash” stuff, where Driss is mocking the modern art and classical music that Philippe enjoys, and Driss brings in a lot of ‘70s disco to liven up the soundtrack, but this is done without condescension—in both directions. In other words, the movie offers art high and low for what it’s worth, without any apparent judgment.
There is a great bit with Driss deciding he can paint modern art and Philippe trying to sell it for an outrageous price. And a running story of Driss trying to seduce Philippe’s haughty assistant (the haughty hottie Audrey Fleurot). But as a whole it doesn’t engage in class warfare.
That’s kind of remarkable, really.
This movie features love, lust, friendship, loss and success. It reminds of that quote attributed to Mae West, W.C. Fields and others: “I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich. Rich is better.” At the same time, it can’t help but show how money isn’t everything.
In the end, you get some pics and data on the real people who these characters represent, which is a nice touch.