Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Untouchable and the bromance

In cinema terms, we’ve been here before. This is the bromance genre that is usually based around a true story: two men from very different backgrounds are thrown together by circumstances and develop a deep friendship.

In the 2010 Oscar winning, The King's Speech, it was the friendship between the Aussie speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), and King George VI (Colin Firth). What brings these men together is George VI's stammer and his attempt to find a cure. It is Lionel Logue’s unconventional methods that helps the King master his disability. George VI finds his voice and in the process, he gains a friend who is prepared to see beyond the royal state and relates to “B-B-B-Bertie”as a human being.

In the 2012 French film, Untouchable (which I would predict has a good chance of winning an Oscar), it is the friendship between an ex-con black immigrant from the benlieues, Driss (Omar Sy), and a cultured Parisian, Philippe (Francois Cluzet). What brings these men together is Philippe’s hang gliding accident which has left him paralysed from the neck down. The paraplegic millionaire has grown weary of live-in carers who either pity him or behave like oily sycophants. The irreverent Driss does neither of these things. Philippe does not find his feet but, thanks to Driss, he regains his love of life and finds love through this friendship and that of an understanding woman.

I’ve written in a previous post about bromance and The King’s Speech, but that film was too earnest for my taste. This was bromance by numbers. Buttoned up King meets eccentric speech therapist and has his tongue loosened. And the moral of the tale is that men can have friendships as deep as the friendships women are perceived to enjoy. That didn’t seem to me to be a great insight (back in 44 BC, Cicero had sussed that fact and wrote about it in his treatise, De Amicitia). The friendship depicted in The King’s Speech felt too staged and theatrical to ring true.

The bromance in Untouchable did ring true and that’s partly because the film is corny, sentimental and playful just like the friendships between men. The directors, Oliver Nakache and Eric Toledano, capture these aspects of male friendship perfectly, but they also recognise that the authentic bromance also contains subterranean emotional and spiritual depths that distinguish it from the “friendships” of pub mates or golf course buddies. Along with its broad stroke charm and crowd-pleasing humour, Untouchable has a real intelligence and eye for the matter and form of male friendship. It is this which makes it moving. Untouchable is a bromance with its heart and its head in the right place.

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