French comedy The Artist charmed cinema-goers around the world earlier this year, taking in more than $130 million in ticket sales and bagging five Academy Awards thanks to its blend of humour and old-school Hollywood style. Hot on its heels is Untouchable, Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano's based-on-fact film about a quadriplegic who hires a street criminal to be his new carer.
Lightning could well strike twice for French cinema, as Untouchable has already set box office tills ringing to the tune of $360m worldwide and has gone down a storm with critics. Further underlining its popularity is a spot at number 75 on IMDb's Top 250 list.
François Cluzet (Tell No One) stars as Philippe, a wealthy man paralysed from the neck down who decides to hire Driss (Omar Sy) after he impresses him in an interview. For Driss, however, he is only in attendance to get a signature for his benefit cheque. With unhappiness at home and a life of poverty, Driss decides to take up Philippe's offer of a job and residence.
There is awkwardness and unease at first, but this pairing eventually blossoms into an unlikely friendship as Driss pushes Philippe to confront his wayward daughter and make contact with a female pen pal.
In the hands of Hollywood, Untouchable could have been overly sentimental and clichéd (worryingly, a remake is already in the works), but writer/directors Nakache and Toledano strike gold with the casting of Cluzet and Sy. The latter invests Driss with a buoyant personality, expertly balancing pathos and a lightness of touch that's enough to ignite a spark in his new boss.
Cluzet, too, is excellent as the wheelchair-bound aristocrat, delivering an expressive performance with only his face. As he gradually becomes comfortable in the company of Driss, there's a sense that he's also getting more comfortable with himself, not allowing his wheelchair to hold him prisoner.
Both characters experience peaks and troughs, but when they click they're an irresistible double-act. Their gliding experience high above the French countryside is an exhilarating and incredibly touching moment. Playfulness and mischief also abound, notably when Philippe and Driss speed through Paris traffic and get off the hook with the police by having Philippe fake a seizure.
Untouchable's theme of mutual exchange and personal growth is all well-worn stuff, but there's an easy charm about this broadly played crowd-pleaser that'll leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling.