A lesson in ‘Les Intouchables’
I was in a fine restaurant in Paris when I was startled to find grenouille saute au beurre (frog sauteed in butter) on the menu. While it is not unusual to eat frogs in France, the English, for example, would be frightened to. In fact, some English people refer to the French as “Frogs”; Frog with a capital F refers to a Frenchman who eats the amphibian. When I asked an Englishman about this reference, he said that the nickname is not necessarily given to them because they consume frogs, but that the unpredictable nature of the French resembles a frog’s.
The French are known for being self-absorbed. They are individualists who adhere to their own way and do not wish to meddle in others’ affairs. When three Englishmen get together, they set ranks among themselves, but when three Frenchmen gather, it leads to a fight. Individuality is a positive asset, but at the same time it comes off as self-centered. Because of this characteristic, it is rare for any one specific trend to be overwhelmingly dominant in France.
Therefore, the popularity of the movie “Les Intouchables” is an unusual phenomenon in France. Nearly 20 million have watched the movie in France since it opened in November 2011; that’s one in three people. It is considered the biggest cultural phenomenon in France between the years 2011 and 2012 so far.
The movie is a dramatic comedy about the unlikely friendship between a wealthy man who has been paralyzed after an accident and a black man hired as his helper. The film is unlike most French films that are focused on intellectualism. It excludes any socially and politically relevant issues and solely focuses on emotion and entertainment. Anyone can enjoy the heartwarming humanism and clever laughs that the film brings to the screen. The French may have grown tired of their country’s backward politics, current economic slump and fallen national status, and instead are buying into the much-needed escape of the moving tale.
In the polarized era of confrontation and discord, the biggest selling point of the film might be its deviation from political ideology. Amusement and inspiration that transcend politics appeal to the public.
Politicians should take a hint here - not siding with a certain class and giving hope to all might be the secret to political success. The formula for success is not complicated; all politicians need to do is to please and impress their citizens.
by Bae Myung-bok
* The author is an editorial writer of JoongAng Ilbo.