Or confusingly, for the UK release, “Untouchable”. And even more confusingly it’s half-translated title for the US release “The Intouchables”. Not to be confused with “The Untouchables”. Oh no, Matt didn’t opt for the Kevin-Costner-shoot-out-homage-to-the-Odessa-Steps. Instead, we experienced a great night full of pizza, wine and popcorn, and enjoyed an amazing French film that broke box office records around Europe. Everybody clear?
Untouchable is a charming film about an aristocrat who had become a quadriplegic following a paragliding accident, and the relationship he forms with a young Senegalese man who he hired to be his carer. Each man has his own disadvantage – one, physical, the other socioeconomic. As we had previously discussed in our MNFC musings of Into the Wild, what could have been a clichéd schmaltzy film is given added poignancy by the fact it is based on a true story. As such, for me at least, rather than reviewing this film as a cynical paint-by-numbers daytime-TV feel-good movie, it perhaps instead shows the capabilities of real people to be quite astounding and compassionate. Hmmm, I am in a good mood today!
The fact that my views seem not to be echoed by other critics makes me wonder if it’s just that my pick-me-up pills are kicking in as I write this review. David Cox from the Telegraph has this to say “Untouchable wears its award-winning aspirations on its sleeve, and all of the necessary boxes — boundary-crossing friendship, hard-hitting themes, warm comedy — are ticked with a fluorescent pink marker”. He also comments on the problem with the emergence of stereotypes; particularly referencing a scene in which “the servant” boogies to Earth, Wind & Fire while “his master” looks on approvingly. Some critics have labeled this nothing more than akin to a ‘performing monkey’; but I must say that when we watched this film I did not get a sense of this, nor was it picked up on by the MNFC crew in our post-match analysis. In fact, for me, the film didn’t really comment on race: the differences between the protagonists was based more in social class, physical abilities, youth, and character or personality traits. But I understand the wider implications regarding race, which has prompted other reviewers to compare it with the unsubtle and perhaps out-dated Driving Miss Daisy. I’ll leave it to you to make up your minds.
The stats regarding the film’s release have given me great faith in the German people. With 8.8 million moviegoers, this was the most successful film in Germany in 2012 (beating the likes of Skyfall, Ice Age: Continental Drift and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2). Take that Bella! Well done Germany, have a star. It is unfortunate that as France’s entry for best foreign language film, it failed to make the Oscar shortlist.
Other than the above issues regarding race and class, and possible stereotypes of these, it also raises interesting opinions about the portrayal of disability on film. What is perhaps unique about Untouchable, is that it’s message is a very positive one, and has an interesting viewpoint that the physical disability of Philippe is reflected in the disadvantages afforded to the ex-con Senegalese immigrant Driss in his role in French society.
Disability on film is an interesting topic in itself, and something that I have enjoyed researching in preparation for this review. It is worth looking through this article in the Guardian. The BFI has this to say: “Cinema has rarely engaged with the genuine experiences of those with physical and sensory disabilities. Sensationalism and condescension were common pitfalls in both fiction and documentary arenas, but film has nevertheless provided a catalyst for positive developments in language and social attitudes towards disability – including learning disabilities and mental illness, which endured a troubling history of misrepresentation on screen.”
Unfortunately, the media continues to enforce disability stereotypes, portraying disabled individuals in a negative un-empowering way. In 1991, disabled activist Paul Hunt identified 10 stereotypes that the media use to portray disabled people:
- The disabled person as pitiable or pathetic
- An object of curiosity or violence
- Sinister or evil
- The super cripple
- As atmosphere
- His/her own worst enemy
- As a burden
- As Non-sexual
- Being unable to participate in daily life
In 2006, the British Film Institute broke down this list into a series of film character examples for each stereotype, from the 1920s up to the present day. These include:
- the character of Colin from the Secret Garden – a character who falls into the stereotype of “Pitiable and pathetic; sweet and innocent; a miracle cure”
- the “sinister or evil” Dr No, with his two false hands, from the Bond film of the same name
- Ron Kovic, the disabled war veteran in Born on the Fourth of July, who is portrayed as “non-sexual or incapable of a worthwhile relationship”
Tom Shakespeare presents a potential reason behind the use of one of these stereotypes: “The use of disability as character trait, plot device, or as atmosphere is a lazy short-cut. These representations are not accurate or fair reflections of the actual experience of disabled people. Such stereotypes reinforce negative attitudes towards disabled people, and ignorance about the nature of disability”
In other words, the disability itself is often used as a hook by writers and film-makers to draw audiences into the story. These one-dimensional stereotypes are often distanced from the audience – where characters are only viewed through their impairment, and not valued as people. My personal opinion regarding Untouchable, is that the characters themselves are rounded and intriguing; although I must admit I did find myself wanting to find out more about Driss, rather than the quick snapshots of his life as viewed by his employer Phillipe. It is an interesting comparison to look again at another MNFC film portrayal of disability: Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll.
In Untouchable, Phillipe appreciates fine art and encourages Driss to embrace his talents in this field. This week, I have experienced first-hand the power that art can have in helping the artist come to terms with difficult personal situations, tragedy, conflict and past events. I was invited by a patient of mine to attend the opening night of a new exhibition at the Saatchi gallery, displaying art that has been created by refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. I thoroughly recommend a trip; it is open until December 2nd 2013.
I have also witnessed how art, and music, can help people with disabilities, when I was working at Ikhwezi Lokusa School in South Africa. It always amazes me the skills exhibited, especially in young people, as they triumph over their physical difficulties. Last year’s Paralympic Games helped raise the profile in the UK for disabled people, and hopefully the good work started to help access and raise standards of living will continue in here the UK as well as around the world.
Until the next time, for Di’s Christmas spectacular, ‘tis the season to be jolly.
THIS IS NOT A DEMOCRACY