Is Untouchable the film to bring France back-to-back triumph at the Oscars?
Judging by the critical reception and box office returns enjoyed by this big screen adaptation of a true story about a disabled millionaire and his helper, it could just happen… even if the film’s charming pair of Parisian producers are not counting their chickens, or statuettes, just yet…
Untouchables has broken box-office records for a French-speaking film
“I don’t own a tuxedo. I might need to buy one,” says Olivier Nakache with a twinkle in his eye during our meeting in London.
He and his creative partner Eric Toledano, who both also wrote and directed the film, can afford to smile – Untouchable has made more than $300 million in ticket sales (not a bad return on a $10 million investment), and been nominated for nine Cesars (French Oscars), including a win for actor Omar Sy, and been presented as France's official submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars – and bless the day they happened upon Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his story.
“We were looking for a project for Omar,” remembers. “We had kept him in mind for everything we did, we were desperate to work with him, and suddenly here it was.”
Di Borgo’s story was one of wealth but tragedy, after he was left paralysed by a paragliding accident. His life was enhanced beyond measure by the arrival of his Algerian-born carer Driss, with whom he found an unusual common sympathy, understanding as well as black humour, despite their very different backgrounds.
Before the simple tale charmed its audiences worldwide, Toledano and Nakache found it a very hard sell to distributors, apprehensive about the charms of its two outsider heroes.
“They asked, “Could you have him walk a little?” remembers Toledano. “But we stood firm… thankfully.”
Eric Toledano (left) and Olivier Nakache (right) with their leading man Francois Clouzet, who played Philippe in the record-breaking Untouchable
Studio bosses had their way, however, over the poster for the film, which crops out Di Borgo’s chair and just shows the men’s two faces in close-up. The chair was back for the English billboards, though, something for which Toledano and Nakache were very appreciative.
Nearly as appreciative as they felt the day their phone rang, and it was the fairy godfather of film himself, Harvey Weinstein, requesting they meet him in London. The looks on their faces as they describe taking the call from the man who brought The Artist to the world nearly recalls how they must have looked on the day itelf…
“The phone rings,” Nakache remembers. “And he mouths, ‘It’s Harvey Weinstein,’ (big vocal gesticulations from Nakache, you can picture it), and I’m saying, ‘Yeah, tell him I’m busy’, and he’s saying, ‘No, it really is…’ ”
Weinstein has shown his nose for a hit once again by scooping up the rights for an English adaptation, with Colin Firth mooted for the role of Philippe. Do these chaps mind their petit enfant being put in the hands of another?
“Not at all,” grins Nakache. “It’s Harvey. He can do what he likes.”
It seems like nothing could bother these two just now. Except maybe where to get hold of a well-fitting tux at short notice…
Untouchable is on nationwide release today. Watch the trailer below…