The Intouchables: A Heartwarming Film with Racist Undertones?

It’s a story about two unlikely people who end up connected in a way only reality could conjure up.  Philippe (Francois Cluzet), an affluent man, has the world piling up on his shoulders when tragedy strikes in a paragliding accident leaving him paralyzed in the second biggest French movie ever- The Intouchables.  A man accustomed to his independence now finds himself in a state that compromises his previous lack of relying on people.  He stumbles upon Driss (Omar Cy), a young Algerian immigrant who has familiarized himself with the world of petty-crime, and the rest is a comical, heart-wrenching tale of how these two helped each other.

But outside of the fabulous plot there are some who claim that the film has a particular air of racism about it.  Daphanee Denis of slate.com addresses such issue in her post Is the Intouchables Racist?  Although not adhering to the affirmative of her title question, she does bring up some interesting aspects that need to be evaluated when looking at this film.  Some American critics like Jay Weissberg of Variety claims that the movie gravitates toward traditional racist roles in which the black man is subservient to the rich white man.  But many would say that this critique is too critical particularly because it is based off a true story recounted in the book, You Changed My Life, by Abdel Sellou who lived the story told in the highly acclaimed French film.

Most blogs critiquing The Intouchables don’t even trek into the realm that the film might have a tinge of racism in it, but instead focus on the heartwarming feelings that give people hope in the world.  Claude Cassangne in his blog of the same name retells his experience of the movie in his post, Les Intouchables- un des meilleurs films (Francais ou autres) que j’ai jamais vu!  His subtitle, which translates to “one of the best films (French or otherwise) that I have ever seen,” describes this French born New Jersey inhabitant’s feeling toward the film best.  Never once does he bring up the allegations that this film could even have a pinch of racism in it, but instead looks beyond skin color for the facts that it is a great movie and a true story.  But is it possible that this film has some latent racist circumstances?

Personally, I would align my opinions with David Berreby of bigthink.com: “The French reaction to this reaction (American film critics assertions of the film being racist), as described by Sotinel, must strike Americans as pretty funny. It amounts to this: Oh, yeah, that one guy is black. Leave it to you race-obsessed Americans to pick that up; we hadn’t noticed. We didn’t really notice that.”  Americans do tend to look at things as black and white, rich and poor, good and bad.  We polarize the world and when we join the poles together it becomes a world that is no longer politically correct.  Perhaps there would be more of a foundation to make such claims if the movie were purely creative and not based off true events, but that isn’t the case and therefore we should set aside our preprogrammed minds and look the disparity as something endearing and hopeful.

France at The Oscars

There’s no bigger red-carpet event than The Oscars. The celebrities, the paparazzi, the gowns – it is the annual apex of all things Hollywood. However, this year, Hollywood should brace itself for a bit of a French invasion because some of the biggest films of 2011 feature this other red, white and blue country. Although the official nominees won’t be announced until January 24 (the Oscar ceremony is on February 26), the following four films are giving France a leading role on the predicted playbill.

The Artist Although the beautiful, black and white film is set in old Hollywood, the  star French director and actors are making this film one of the most talked about films of the year both in France and the U.S. Jean DuJardin (who is NOT dead, as rumors earlier this year suggested) won Best Actor at Cannes for his leading male role in the film, and the director, Michel Hazanavius, is married to the leading lady, Berenice Bejo. The film is about the decline of male film star in light of a rising actress, and even though it is silent, tout le monde is talking about The Artist.

Hugo Who would have thought that Martin Scorsese, the film king of intensely human drama, would ever produce something in animation? Well, he did, 3D and all, and it’s causing quite a stir. Based on Brian Selznick’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the action-packed, fantastical film follows a young boy’s adventures through a train station in Paris in the 1930s. Big-name stars such as Jude Law and Sacha Baron Cohen have lent their voices to the project, and despite its PG, takeyourkidstothismovie rating, it has received rave reviews. The New York Times said, “There is something poignant and paradoxical about Mr. Scorsese’s honoring a film pioneer in digital (and in 3-D, no less), yet these moving pictures belong to the same land of dreams that Méliès once explored, left for a time and entered once again through the love of the audience.” Looks like Scorsese added another masterpiece to his list.

War Horse In Steven Spielberg’s newest flick, he combines a few of the most popular movie categories – horse movie, war drama and love story – into one super-film of epic proportions. A young man’s horse gets shipped to France in WWI, so he hops across the pond and enters the war-stricken territory, too. Apparently, it’s an incredibly compelling tale; you won’t be able to judge for yourself until the film hits theaters on Christmas Day.

Midnight in Paris Woody Allen likes to travel. He’s recently branched away from his usual setting of NYC and made films in Barcelona and London, but in his latest – and one of his all-time greatest – films, he focuses his lenses on the streets of Paris. With an all-star cast of Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams and Kurt Fuller, the film jumps tirelessly between modern day Paris and the city as it was in the roaring 20s. The likes of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway come to life for Owen Wilson’s quirky, confused character, as he time travels back to the dimly lit bars and glamorous dance halls of Montmarte in its bohemian glory. As humorous as it is visually captivating, Paris has never performed better than under the direction of Woody.

Here’s a question to ponder: after all of the ill-feelings the U.S. has had toward France in recent years (for instance, the “Freedom Fries” debacle), what does it say about our culture that France is now making a big splash in one of our most popular forms of entertainment? Is popular culture becoming a means of diplomacy? Will Americans be forever fascinated by French culture?

Here’s a less thought-provoking question: which French-centric flick is worthy of a trophy? Only time will time. In the meantime, sit back, relax, and enjoy some of France’s finest on the big screen.