This film has been breaking records in France and it’s easy to see why. It’s a genuinely heart-warming and incredibly feel good movie. It’s received an award from the minister in France for disability and it’s tipped to win many more awards at the Oscars.
Directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano saw a TV documentary about Philippe Pozzo Di Borgo , a wealthy quadriplegic, and his friendship with his former carer, Abdel Sellou, an Algerian who had immigrated to France. They asked for a meeting with Philippe, found him living in Morocco and went to visit. When they returned they started the screenplay but made a few amendments. They had worked with Omar Sy before and wanted him to play the carer, a Senegalese ex-criminal, living in poverty with an unstable family background. Philippe also wrote a book about their relationship called A Second Wind.
“He was unbearable, vain, proud, brutal, inconsistent, human. Without him, I would have rotted to death. . . . He was my guardian devil.”
Francois Cluzet (Tell No One) stars as Philippe. The two men cross paths when Philippe (Cluzet) hires Driss (Omar Sy) as his unlikely carer. Driss meanwhile only attended the interview to satisfy the requirements of the benefits office.
Driss moves from his cramped flat into Philippe’s palatial mansion. And the scene is set for opposites colliding. Differences between the two men’s worlds are shown through music. Driss favours the soulful boogie of Earth, Wind & Fire while Philippe’s predilections lie in the high brow classical world.
At Philippe’s birthday there is the annual gathering of family and an orchestra performs a few classical numbers for the party, who sit and listen politely. Driss recognizes some pieces of music from adverts, one tune is the holding call for the benefits office. Driss persuades the party to play some classic Earth, Wind & Fire. Driss takes to the floor and busts an impressive dancing display, while Philippe can only look on, perhaps initially envious, but then in wistful admiration.
And here the film triumphs, in the two men’s contrasting and complementing acting and on-screen chemistry.
Cluzet has the difficult task of having to act through his eyes and facial expressions – and he conveys so much.
Driss takes Philippe on a mystery drive, they check into seaside accommodation and Driss opens up a doorway to decking overlooking a vast horizon and sea, you can almost feel the bracing sea air on Philippe’s face. Philippe’s eyes well up and he looks to his friend with a genuine feeling of love and gratitude. No words or gestures are needed.
And while Cluzet performs this excellent acting job with just his face, it’s in contrast to Sy’s performance. His Driss is a whirlwind. He’s larger than life, expressive, incredibly childlike, he’s experiencing and learning about Philippe’s world through a child’s eyes. He acts accordingly and often inappropriately. It’s refreshing and funny. He laughs out loud while sitting in a posh box at the opera, to the disapproving glare of others around him.
Driss wears his heart on his sleeve while Philippe hides his emotions. Driss openly flirts with women, he makes no attempt to hide his desire for Philippe’s secretary, Magalie (Audrey Fleurot), his advances are brash, blatant, playful, and opportunist. He’s alive, a powerful sexual force. His energy crackles on screen. Philippe meanwhile is hiding behind a pen-pal romance, writing long romantic, prose in an attempt to woo a woman he’s never met, and probably destined to never meet, because he’s mentally as well as physically imprisoned … until Driss decides otherwise.
With such an out-there character as Driss, there could be a danger of over-acting, trying too hard and feeling too contrived, like an overblown and over-enthusiastic Jim Carrey character – but Sy’s performance is natural, sensitive and complementary.
The humour is natural and spontaneous. It’s laugh-out-loud funny. They make an impressive and easy double-act. It feels almost unscripted at times.
Although different, both men share the commonality of the judgements of other people’s perceptions and prejudices. Driss is confined and defined by his poverty and Philippe by his physicality. They are both on the fringes of society. And it’s a reminder of the fragility of life which can be changed in a moment, by an accident (Philippe is injured and paralysed while paragliding), and almost no-one is immune to financial crises and the effects of changing circumstances.
Without realizing it, they both have the capacity to see beyond the façade. Driss shows no pity to Philippe, it’s what Philippe wants. Driss refuses to “pack” him into his specially converted car “like a horse” and instead the two men race around the city in one of Philippe’s fleet of sleek, sports cars. Philippe looks like he’s being allowed to live again. They have late night / early morning jaunts around Paris, and they hang out in legendary Parisian cafe Les Deux Magots and smoke joints. And Philippe sees beyond Driss’s criminal track record and finds a tender and caring person who will hold him when he’s in pain.
While Philippe gets to live again, Driss sees another way to live. A life away from the only one he has known, that of crime and poverty, and also where his younger sibling is heading.
You can’t fail to be cheered up by this movie. It’s feel-good escapism, some have said it’s corny and sentimental, but the performances from the lead roles and the supports save it from being too schmaltzy. However, it’s due for a Hollywood make-over and I’m already fearful of the results.
To meet the real Philippe and Abdel – click link to interview in Telegraph: Interview in Telegraph with Philippe and Abdel
As well as some Earth, Wind & Fire and some classical excepts there’s a gorgeous score by Ludovico Einaudi.