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Cinema in Focus: ‘The Intouchables’

The film explores the internal and external struggles people face amid life-altering situations

3 Stars — Thoughtful

It’s hard to imagine what it would be like to be active and fully functional one day and through an accident become virtually incapacitated the next. Learning how to function physically without the freedom you once knew would be traumatic. Equally, if not more so, would be having to face the inevitable fall into an emotional abyss as you face having to become the person you will be for the rest of your life.

The Intouchables is a bittersweet, yet charming true story about Philippe (Francois Cluzet), a wealthy French aristocrat who became a quadriplegic from a paragliding accident.

Like many people in his world, Philippe lived a pleasure-filled life with often risky behaviors that added a sense of adventure to his life. He loved fast cars, jumping out of airplanes and any thrill that would give him a sense of accomplishment. Like many, he thought he would always be “immortal” and the risks at hand would always play in his favor.

When Philippe’s life changed in an instant, he descended into depression and had to accept that even the smallest functions of eating, bathing and going to the bathroom would require hands-on help, often from strangers. While he had the funds to hire all the help he needed, he went through assistants on a weekly basis because of his sense of indignity and the loss of any emotional connection with those who were most close to him in this daily struggle. That is, until the most unlikely person walked into his life by accident.

Driss (Omar Sy) was an out-of-work immigrant with a criminal history for robbery who just needed a signature on his Welfare Card to show that he was looking for work. While Philippe lived in a life of refinement, Driss lived in poverty and was surrounded by poor influences. Philippe expected the best from everyone, while Driss assumed the worst. Philippe chose his words carefully, and Driss would say anything and everything that came into his head.

No one was more surprised that Driss when he found out that Philippe would only sign his Welfare Card if he agreed to come to work for him. Equally surprised was Philippe’s staff, who spent most of their time recruiting and interviewing attendants for the job, as each one would quit or be fired after a week.

The delightful interaction that emerges in the relationship between these two unusual friends is both touching and inspiring. Driss’ lack of filtered conversation takes them into some of the most unlikely places and provides lots of humor and sometimes tears. It also rebuilds Philippe’s life, and ultimately Driss’ life as well.

At one level or another we are all faced with life-altering events. No one’s life is without pain, and it is because of these that we become either stronger or we sink into weakness.

The key to the choices we make is often due to the love and compassion we receive from family and friends. Friends who love us unconditionally, people who we barely know yet pray for us, and professionals who treat us with dignity and respect are an interdependent source of strength and healing. This circle of support is a key ingredient in living a healthy and abundant life regardless of physical or emotional trauma. Our best hope for living this kind of life is to commit to surrounding ourselves with these kinds of people now and not waiting until we are in serious need.

Discussion:

» Have you had an incident that changed the direction of your life and caused you to depend on the care of family or friends? How did you change because of this?

» The unlikely relationships we form are often the most transformative. What relationship in your life has impacted you the most?

» When our anger isolates us in our time of need, we experience an emptiness that can be devastating. How have you dealt with this when the one you care about is pushing you away?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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