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The Intouchables: A perfect character film

Updated: Sep 1, 2021

The Intouchables has to be second-most predictable film that I've ever seen, but it has to be the most predictable film that I've seen irrespective of whether I have seen the original Star Wars or not. I also think that it is the best character-based film I've ever seen. Maybe not "best", but definitely a film that uses this technique perfectly.

To put it more clearly, a character film is one that is more about the characters and their relationships than about achieving a certain goal. I want to make it clear that neither of these is inherently better than the other, but anyone who has read my previous posts might have noticed my turn-on more character writing. I have always watched films and shows observing the intention of the writers on what they wish to say about the characters, and it is surprising to see a film in which every beat is all about the characters.

The two primary characters in the film, Driss and Phillipe are an odd couple. They are the the Max and Chloe, the Han and Luke. One of them is a "no care in the world" tough guy who was moulded through a tough life, pairing up with a rule-abiding stickler who makes decisions based on what they feel is moral. This pairing is a classic, and they usually provide great interactions for characterisation in those pockets between plot-points. In The Intouchables, the characterisation moments ARE the plot-points. Every character is inherently active, since their relationships have to drive the plot. Of course, there are uncontrollable events too, like Phillipe suffering the asthmatic attack in his room, but it only serves to develop Driss as a character. When you have no endgame, your movie could feel directionless, but it doesn't means that the film is not a joy to watch.

Throughout the film, we see the two characters influence and change each other. Phillipe hires Driss since he needed someone who will not show him pity because of his condition, and someone who treats him like a human. This allows Phillipe to experience events he could only feel through someone who shows no pity. We can see this by simple changes in status quo. Phillipe finally gets enough courage to talk to Eléonore, or how he openly laughed in an opera.

The more interesting character arc for me is that of Driss. His carefree nature comes at a cost. Driss does not seem to be able to get a job (in fact, he actively tries NOT to get the job to get refusal benefits). This leads to his LARGE family suffering financial burdens and his cousin becoming an at-risk teen. Driss' arc is him learning to care more about people other than himself. This is further solidified when we find out that he has to give up his job with Phillipe to be supportive of Adama. Driss leaving behind this amazing life to support his cousin was the perfect narrative climax for his character arc. Also, though I don't usually do this, I have to give a lot of credit to Omar Sy's amazing performance for completely capturing this arc.

This kind of character writing usually doesn't work, since it makes films dry and boring. The fact that it is based on a true story also restricted the creative liberties for writing a plot, but it, without a doubt, helped our two lead actors identify with their roles strongly. Alfred Hitchcock made a principle stating that two people talking at a table is boring, but tell the audience that there is a bomb underneath, the scene becomes interesting. I know he was just referring about building tension, but what about making a simple conversation interesting? Well, it's not easy, but put all your chips into the strength of the actors.

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