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A big-screen ‘Frère Jacques’



During an impromptu job interview, Philippe (François Cluzet) asks Driss (Omar Sy) if he knows Vivaldi. That the younger man is not familiar with the composer is no surprise, but Vivaldi is a just comparison for Intouchables, an exuberant, life-affirming French film that shies away from a complex structure in favor of a lyrical, unforgettable melody.

The story of a rich quadriplegic who hires an immigrant from the ghetto as his caretaker is not terribly new. You could make a few cosmetic changes and have Driving Miss Daisy or Scent of a Woman; those who are grousing about this film’s simple nature throw around those titles almost as accusations. But Intouchables is almost too good-natured to care about the name-calling; it just tells its story — based, as it happens, on two men very much like Philippe and Driss — and lets the camera roll on two fantastic performances.

You may have seen Cluzet in another French export, the thriller Tell No One. He plays Philippe as a man only bound to his chair physically. Emotionally and in his imagination, he’s still the guy who went parasailing and wound up paralyzed. Perhaps that’s why he’s so drawn to Driss, who, despite his past as a small-time crook and the hardscrabble life of many North African refugees, always wears a smile and looks for the best in every day.

In just a few months, Intouchables has become something of a Jeopardy! answer: It’s already the highest-grossing foreign film in history, having taken in about $350 million overseas before it ever opened in the U.S. And the reason why is so simple, it’s a wonder Hollywood even bothers with a parade of battleships and John Carters: Intouchables may seem like elevator music, but it’s playing a tune everyone eventually catches themselves humming. COLIN BOYD


François Cluzet, Omar Sy, directed by Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano, rated R, 112 mins.