Our friends, Mandy and Charles, lent us the DVD of Untouchable (originally Les Intouchables, in French), saying they thought we'd enjoy it. We watched it last night with two very good friends. What a good evening, sharing Masterchef-winning food and a rich red Spanish wine. I wouldn't say I wet myself, except with tears of uncontained laughter down my face. It's an excellent film and a refreshingly sane view of disability, and Steve and Bev are such great fun.
We’ve just watched Untouchable for the second time. It had me helpless with laughter on occasions – which is remarkable as one of the two main characters is a sad quadriplegic widower and the other is a fostered alienated gang-member from the Paris suburbs. As the French title implies, both are examples of society’s outsiders. They both are “untouchable”. The film is based on the true story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo (“Philippe”) and his carer, Abdel Sellou (“Driss”).
There are so many memorable scenes, it’s hard to pick out highlights. It starts with a hilarious car chase through Paris at night, and then we see how the partnership began, with Driss simply looking for evidence for his job-seekers’ benefit. His total unsuitability appeals to Philippe, a multi-millionaire disabled in a paragliding fall, who clearly and unsurprisingly is a difficult client. There follows an unsentimental and funny induction for Driss into the business of caring, from exercises to compression stockings, from showering to evacuating bowels!
Meanwhile you watch how their differing cultures and personalities (though they are both strong) enrich and change the other, and how in a sense they redeem each other’s hopeless lives. I don’t want to give more of the plot away, but there are two bits of dialogue which remain with me. One is when Philippe is being warned off Driss by his lawyer-friend who has “made enquiries” into his dubious past of petty crime. “These street guys have no pity.” Philippe replies, “That’s it exactly. That’s what I want. No pity.” The other is near the end when Driss, reemployed after being sent to sort his cousin out, has driven Philippe to the seaside to a smart hotel, and is shaving off his beard – he’s “let himself go” in Driss’s absence – . Philippe says, “A quick cut would settle it.” Driss is unmoved, just replying, “You’re in great shape. I love it.” There follows a great scene in which he experiments with various styles of moustache, and then comes the film’s dénouement, which I won’t divulge. What Driss learns for himself and then insists for Philippe is that we are not fated to be victims.
I do think it’s the most positive and affirming film about disability I’ve watched, and for me has been a great antidote to self-pity. It’s beautiful, gritty and funny, with lots of witty dialogue. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
It's sad, I feel, that all of us, however disabled, do not reject victimhood, and insist on life even in the minutiae of existence. After his conversation about pity, Philippe goes on to say, "True, he (Driss) isn't compassionate for me. But he's strong, with arms and legs. His brain works; he's healthy. So, for the rest, given my 'state', as you call it, his background and so on, I don't give a shit." It strikes me this is a different way of looking at compassion from that bandied around so freely in the media and among the mass of phoners-in to radio shows. Driss does not show the sentimental "I feel so sorry for you" mentality which so often passes for "compassion". That is not what Philippe is looking for or needs. He needs pragmatic compassion, which is the word Driss adopts to describe himself, pragmatique. That is true compassion, standing with someone, through thick and thin, and doing practically all you can to enhance their life. It seems clear that we're in for another round of pro-euthanasia campaigning with Paul Lamb's identifying himself as the late Tony Nicklinson's unnamed co-litigant this week and Lord Falconer limbering up for another attempted round of legislation in the Lords. Watch out for that wishy-washy sentimentalised use of the C word! It's not true compassion. It's a substitute emotion, not the real thing. In occupied Jersey during the war, they used to grind up lupin seeds to make ersatz coffee. Well, beware of ersatz compassion. Watch Untouchable to see what true caring really looks like, how gritty and how positive it is.