When I saw the trailer, I really didn’t want to see this. About a rich, patrician quadriplegic, Philippe Pozzo de Borgo (François Cluzet), and his misfit, profane, hoodlum caretaker from the projects, Driss (Omar Sy), it seemed that it would be ultimately depressing.
How wrong I was! It is often laugh out loud funny as Driss brings refreshing variety into Philippe’s obviously limited life. Directed by Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache, it received nine 2012 César nominations, one of which was won by Sy for Best Actor.
It is based on a 2003 documentary, A La Vie, A La Mort, about the friendship between Philippe and his caretaker, Abdel. Writers/directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano were captivated by it, but put it aside until they felt they were “mature enough” to take it on. While the real Driss was named Abdel and was born inAlgeria, the filmmakers changed his name and his birthplace toSenegal. When they met with Philippe, he insisted that the subject be treated with humor. Since the meeting was years later, ensuing events told to them by Philippe gave them new material for the ending since the story really wasn’t finished when the documentary was made.
This is in essence a love story between two completely dissimilar heterosexual men. And I don’t mean love that involved sex. It’s love in its purist form. Although the film runs for two hours, the directors do a terrific job of maintaining the pace so it flows seamlessly.
The acting is superb. Even though Sy won the award as best actor, Cluzet (whose credits include Guillaume Canet’s conversion of Harlan Coben’s bestseller, Tell No One to film for which he won the 2007 César as Best Actor) gives an equally wonderful performance as the quadriplegic with a happy outlook on life, giving one of the finest performances of his life without being able to move anything below his neck. Mathieu Padepied’s cinematography adds a lot to the film, as does the music of Ludovico Einaudi. In French
Movies are really a director’s genre. While they can all slip, generally if a director is good the movie will be good. John Madden has two very good films to his credit, Shakespeare in Love (1998) and 2010’s The Debt. Here with a fine script by Ol Parker from the novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach, he branches out to light comedy and a film of deep feelings, and he doesn’t miss a beat.
The film is overflowing with outstanding performances. If it doesn’t get the ensemble cast award from SAG, something’s wrong. But head and shoulders above them all is Penelope Wilton, who plays Bill Nighy’s unhappy wife. She goes through an entire range of emotions. Rarely have I seen such a compelling, believable performance in a supporting role.
But that’s not to shake a fist at the others. Tom Wilkinson’s performances are always so good that he sometimes goes unnoticed. OK, he was great, so what else is new? Same with Judi Dench. Nighy is the best I’ve ever seen him. Celia Imrie kind of gets short shrift here, but she is excellent in one of the pivotal roles. Finally, the entire concept wouldn’t have worked but for Dev Patel’s performance as the lovingly enthusiastic proprietor of the hotel.
Madden has a good feel for people considered elderly. Just because one hits 60 doesn’t mean that life is over and that’s one of the main points of this film. It shows that people of a certain age still have the feelings they had when they were in their 20s, and that love and romance and sex are still important to them.
Adding to the movie’s charm is the affectionate cinematography (Ben Davis) of the picturesque locations shot in Jaipur andUdaipur,India.
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