(2011) True Life Drama (Weinstein) Omar Sy, Francois Cluzet, Anne Le Ny, Audrey Fleurot, Clotilde Mollet, Alba Gaia Bellugi, Cyril Mendy, Christian Ameri, Gregoire Oestermann, Josephine de Meaux, Dominique Daguier, Francois Caron, Thomas Soliveres. Directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano
This is a movie that did big time box office in France last year, winding up the second most successful film in French history in just nine weeks. It is a heartwarming, uplifting kind of film and I can see why the French have taken to it.
American critics haven’t been quite as smitten, excoriating the film for what the high and mighty consider racist views. Now let me be clear on this; you have to be hyper-sensitive to see any sort of racism here at all. Most of the offense that huffy critics are taking are in the fact that the premise of the film is that a wealthy quadriplegic French industrialist (white) hires an upbeat ex-con (black) to be his attendant and take care of his needs; the relationship between them is as an employer-employee to begin with.
Folks, I know it might be hard to believe in this day and age, but there are white employers out there who have (*gasp*) non-white employees. There are even white rich guys who have personal assistants that are of African descent. Strangely, that doesn’t make it a master-slave relationship.
Notice how we are four paragraphs in and I have yet to actually discuss the movie except in the most general terms. That’s because I’m so furious at the lambasting this film is taking from politically correct, self-righteous morons who claim to be offended by this depiction of a relationship between a white employer and a black employee in which the white man is transformed by the spirit of the black man, who has the temerity to introduce the white man to pop music (in the person of Earth Wind and Fire) while introducing him to classical. The horror of it all.
Now this is based on a true story, although the attendant was in reality from Algeria and not Senegal as in the movie (which some critics thundered was further proof of the racial insensitivity of the filmmakers – can you imagine how these same critics would have howled with the Arab in the “subservient’ position?) so there is that. However, the rest of the movie is a tribute to humanity and its ability to find hope and inspiration in seemingly unlikely places.
Philippe (Cluzet) was injured in a paragliding accident and left a quadriplegic. His wife had since passed on, leaving him with an adopted daughter Elisa (Bellugi) and nobody to take care of his daily needs, which are many. He is looking for an attendant and interviewing a lot of different men of varying degrees of suitability. Driss (Sy) is recently released from prison. He quite frankly doesn’t expect to get the job; he is merely applying to satisfy his parole, which requires Philippe’s personal assistant Magalie (Fleurot) to fill out a form for him.
Instead, Philippe, tired of all the earnest and humorless men who want to be in charge of his very existence (including bathing him, pushing his wheelchair and making sure his breathing remains regular at night), is intrigued by Driss’ sunny attitude and flirtation with Magalie. He decides to hire the man, even though he’s an ex-con (for armed robbery) and perhaps not the most reliable of men.
Forced into a situation where they have to trust one another, a gradual mutual respect grows that turns into a deep friendship. Each man helps the other grow; Philippe introduces Driss to culture and inspires him to make something more of himself than, as Philippe puts it, a wheelchair-pusher. In turn Philippe’s eyes are opened and world broadened. Driss’ sunny disposition becomes contagious; not only Philippe but also Magalie and Yvonne (Le Ny) – his dour housekeeper – are transformed by Driss, whose upbeat joy of life is infectious.
The role of Driss is much more difficult than it sounds. For the kind of liveliness to be authentic, it has to come from within which is why Sy’s performance is so special. The audience is just as swept up by Driss’ enthusiasm as Philippe is. It’s the kind of performance that makes careers happen and considering the overwhelming success of the film in France, Sy has a brilliant future ahead of him; I’m personally hoping he comes to the States and does a few films here as well because I’m positive he will captivate audiences here just as thoroughly.
This is a movie that will leave you feeling good as you leave the theater, even if your mood was bad when you entered. In these rough times, that’s worth its weight in platinum. What angers me about these charges of racial insensitivity is that it might dissuade people from seeing the movie and that would be criminal. Don’t let a critic make up your mind for you; see the movie for yourself and make up your own mind. Personally, I’m willing to bet most of you will wind up agreeing with me – any insensitivity lies within the imagination of some overly-sensitive critics.
REASONS TO GO: Deeply uplifting. Sy turns in a career-making performance and Cluzet is awfully good as well.
REASONS TO STAY: Loses its way about 2/3 of the way through the movie and the ending is a bit too Hollywood.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some bad language as well as some depictions of drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Omar Sy beat out Jean Dujardin of The Artist for the Best Actor award at the Cesar awards last year, the first actor of African descent to win it.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/24/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 76% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100. The reviews are largely positive..
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Driving Miss Daisy
MASERATI LOVERS: Philippe’s car is a Maserati Quattroporte and Driss gets to put it through it’s paces.
FINAL RATING: 9/10