You’ve got to hand it to the French; they know how to make socially relevant films with lots of heart and humor. This one is another fun loving gem that hits all the right notes while dealing with serious issues but without any sentimentality. A surprise hit in Europe, it’s one of the funniest and most moving films of the year.
The story focuses on two people both with big problems but in very different circumstances. Philippe, a wealthy middle aged aristocrat living in a mansion with many servants and confined to a wheel chair after an accident leaves him totally paralyzed from the neck down, is looking to hire a full time care giver. Driss, on the other hand, is a charming young out of work Senegalese ex-con man from the poor side of town just released from jail.
In order to get government assistance, Driss must prove that he is attempting to find employment. He cons his way into applying for the job of the wealthy man’s care giver without any qualifications and without any expectations of landing the job. What happens next is a bit of a Prince and the Pauper story as we see the world of the privileged through the eyes of one of the most under privileged in Paris, France.
One of the things these two do seem to have in common is their love of music, although their tastes are very different and the soundtrack has a fabulous mix of classical and contemporary music.
The rich Philippe decides to challenge this unqualified wild card and allows him try the job believing he won’t last and also because he cannot tolerate being treated with pity and figures that this uncivilized brute has no concept of sympathy. But what he doesn’t count on is just how much heart and compassion this man possesses.
I love how this movie pokes fun at issues of the disabled and of the stifling stuffiness of high society and the upper class. Philippe’s disability represents the constrained inward cerebral oppression of emotions, whereas Driss wears his heart on his sleeve and represents the uncontrolled outward freedom of expressions. The one expresses himself only inwardly and the other outwardly making for some excellent chemistry between the two. Both men have qualities that the other doesn’t understand but exposure to those very qualities is what teaches them what they need to be happy and enriches both their lives.
The performances are absolutely first rate; completely honest and convincing. Omar Sy, who plays Driss, won the César award for best actor in France which is the equivalent of the Oscar in the US. He won in the same year that Jean Dujardin, another French actor, won the Oscar for best actor in The Artist (2011).
Don’t pass up the chance to see this wonderful thought provoking film. It will be well worth your time and money. One of the highest grossing films in France and Europe, this movie is a truly enriching experience.
I also recommend you find and watch these other wonderful recent French comedies with similar social themes: The Women on the 6th Floor (2011) and The Names of Love (2011).