This is billed as a comedy, but it raises great questions about what someone might want from a carer, what makes a carer relationship work, and the ethics of power relationships within a carer relationship.
Almost by accident, black ex-con Drees becomes a live-in carer for Philippe, a wealthy cultured man with a tetraplegia. Drees’ main attraction for his employer seems to be a complete lack of pity. In addition Drees’ streetwise way of dealing with the secretary, with the neighbour that parks across the gates, with the policemen chasing them on a speeding escapade, and even his alternative dancing at Philippe’s birthday party, all add something new and unconventional to his employer’s life.
Philippe is tetraplegic, with no physical way of avoiding anything that Drees or anyone else does to him. This is demonstrated very early in Drees’ induction, when, as a naive new employee, he realises that when his employer has his eyes shut he is unaware of any touch on his body. Fascinated, Drees experiments by pouring some hot water over Philippe’s shin, to the horror of the other carer present. It is a moment that communicates vividly the complete dependence of the tetraplegic person.
Later on, when Drees returns after an absence, he finds his despondent employer has let himself go, and has long hair and a beard. There is a clip which is in turn hilarious and stomach-churning, as Drees shaves his employer, revealing a sequence of moustache styles that he has chosen without consultation, including a Hitler look, and you see the eyes of the helpless Philippe veer from amusement to horror and fear, as he (and we) feel the physical powerlessness inherent in his relationship with Drees. At the end of the day Drees can leave him with an unwanted hairstyle – just because he can.
On the other hand Drees is the employee – sometimes he is placed in the position of discomfort, as when Philippe arranges that they both go kite-gliding in the Alps, the very activity that he was doing when he had his accident. Drees is scared but he is made to have a go with an instructor. Luckily he loves the experience.
The ultimate manipulation of the other – coming from a love(?) that is prepared to take risks – is when Drees leaves his employer stranded in a restaurant, having arranged an in-person blind-date with the lady to whom Philippe has been writing romantic letters. When he realises his situation, Philippe initially shows anxiety and irritation, not surprising since he has backed out of a meeting before, severely conscious of his physical disability. Then we see him smile, perhaps because he realises that he has no choice but to meet his female friend, or perhaps because he realises that this is what he asked for when he took Drees on, someone who does not play by the employer-employee rules.
Untouchable is based on a true story between a French millionaire and a carer from a completely different background, and we see a picture of them at the conclusion of the film. It is a film that has won awards, and it also raises some uncomfortable questions about the nature of the client-carer interaction, about the importance of consent, and about the effects of taking risks within relationships.
Untouchable 2012 dir. Eric Toledano & Olivier Nakache, starring Francois Cluzet, Omar Sy