Interpreting Intouchables: Competing Transnationalisms in Contemporary French Cinema


The main publicity poster for Olivier Nakache’s and Eric Toledano’s recent film Intouchables (The Intouchables [2011]) features two men side-by-side, grinning ear-to-ear. The image is oddly difficult to interpret. For French cinema initiates, the contrast should be striking. Seated to the left is François Cluzet, long one of the France’s more versatile leading actors; huddled over him on the right is Omar Sy, a French-born comedian of Senegalese and Mauritanian descent who, prior to playing this role, was largely unknown to the French public. Those unfamiliar with the actors will note, at the very least, their different attire; Cluzet’s patterned ascot and Sy’s green hooded sweatshirt signal clear class distinctions to go with their contrasting skin tones. Yet although this type of odd couple is common in French farce (as in Hollywood buddy comedies), the film’s strangely inscrutable title gives pause. Lacking an article in French, intouchables becomes a floating plural adjective and invites speculation. Just who or what is “untouchable” here anyway, and in what sense? Is this perhaps an oblique reference to the lowest rung of the Indian caste system? If so, to what end? In the absence of any other straightforward indicators, the viewer can hardly be blamed for grasping for possible meanings.

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