The Intouchables

We felt like watching a movie last night, and in particular I felt like watching a good movie.  I went to my favourite recommendation site (Movielens… it’s my favourite mostly because I already have like 800 movies rated on it so it’s usually got some reasonable recommendations for us.  I can’t be bothered to rate all those movies on another site, god.) but all the movies at the top of the list seemed to be either war or romance (or both!).  I was not in the mood for either of those.  So I wandered over to IMDB and looked at the list of the top 250 rated movies.  Surprise… we’ve already seen most of them, too.  But there were a few titles I didn’t recognize, so I checked them out and it turned out I didn’t recognize them because they weren’t in English.  We’ve only recently really expanded into foreign films so there are some untapped resources waiting there.  (We’ve already seen the sci-fi ones, of course…).  One of the first ones on the list was The Intouchables, a french film about a wealthy quadriplegic man who hires an ex-con as his caregiver, after he comes in for the job interview merely to get his welfare papers signed to prove he “tried” to get a job.

There’s nothing much unique about the story – it’s pretty much exactly what you expect.  Two very different worlds collide and everyone learns valuable life lessons in the end.  It would be almost insultingly cliche, if it weren’t actually based on a true story.  Well… sort of.  After the movie is over, there is a shot of the real people the movie is based on, and you discover that Philippe is portrayed accurately, but “Driss” is named “Abdel” and he is Arabic, not African.  My eyebrow raised at that change… if you’re portraying a true story about an ex-con arab, why would you feel the need to change it to an ex-con black guy?  Especially since the movie seems to tap into some of the stereotypes of black people in poverty stricken areas and it might have been nice to explore a different nationality attempting to deal with things.  Adding to that, it really felt like the story of Driss’s family was truncated and unfinished, possibly because they had less source material to work with?  It just seemed like the decision to make changes resulted in a lot of awkwardness.  I had to go do some research and sources didn’t exactly pour out of the internet, but it seems as though their explanation is that they simply had an actor in mind already and he happened to be black.  It doesn’t really change the story, and the actor they got is amazing, but it still kind of sets off my OCD.  It’s not accurate dammit!  Of course, it was already sort of bothering me because “intouchable” should not be a word, let alone a title.  >:(

Inaccuracies aside, the movie itself was really, really good.  Any threats of being boring or cliche were buried by amazing writing and excellent pacing.  It seems as though a lot of the situations that are portrayed are based on things that actually happened (in the one interview I found, they only mention two scenes which were fabricated, and a few things that happened but played out slightly differently in reality.  I also highly suspect the scene where Driss is compared to Barack Obama did not happen to Abdel…) and the scenes and lines roll together in an incredibly natural fashion (with the exception of a few that felt very “plunked”.  Like they wanted to include them but didn’t know where, so they just got stuffed in wherever).  The writing is actually quite funny, which is something you may not expect in this sort of movie, but it also plays into the points the movie seems to be trying to make.  At no point did it seem to be inappropriately funny, nor did it ever get so serious that it was oppressive, even when dealing with serious subject matter.  I felt it was really well balanced.

My husband’s review was: “That was really good, but they definitely overused the dramatic piano music.”
So there’s that, I guess.

While looking up the background of the movie, I also discovered it won, like, every award, and was like the second most popular movie of all time in France.  I originally figured I wanted to use this blog to bring attention to things people might miss otherwise (and to bitch about popular things that suck, of course) so I guess this movie doesn’t really fit that criteria, but I do hope the need for subtitles doesn’t prevent people from checking this one out.  Subtitles are actually pretty great because you don’t have to worry about speaker volume imbalance and not being able to hear words over the background music!  Although it does make it infinitely more annoying when the cat walks in front of the TV…

Beyond Belief

Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing EscapeBeyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn’t know much about Scientology before other than it seemed to be a “church” based on ridiculous beliefs that was taking advantage of its tax-exempt status in what should be a criminal manner in order to fleece its followers. And the internet started a war against them and a lot of suing happened, but not much else. I saw the title of this book and I knew that people had reported non-stop harassment for even casual curious inquiries into the “readings” and whatever else, but I thought to myself it was a little dramatic to label quitting as an “escape”. Couldn’t you just stop going to the “services” or whatever equivalent they have and just ignore the harassing phone calls and letters asking you to come back?

Boy, have I been educated.

This is the story of the niece of the man who took over leadership of the church, so her family was buried quite deeply in the organization, in the “Sea Org”. Essentially where the sun doesn’t shine, and associating with non-scientologists is considered a crime. You get a good look into the depths of the church – maybe not the actual heart where the decisions and rules are made, but the inner layers where the officers are trained. It’s also a fascinating look at how brainwashing works. I knew Scientology was known for brainwashing techniques, but this is brainwashing 101.

Jenna describes her entire life from very young ages all the way up to early 20s-ish or so when she finally manages to leave. I started reading and was thinking “This isn’t so bad… I mean, it’s bad but not completely unusual for fanatical religion.” And then it got worse. And worse. And worse… and … okay it’s pretty fucking bad.

What I found really interesting is the potential glimpse into the motivations of the church. I thought it was 100% a scam designed to pry every last penny from its followers – and it’s certainly that – but it almost seems like the church was designed as a money making scheme and it’s slowly been warped into an entity that, on some levels, actually believes it’s doing the right thing. Some of the decisions made make absolutely no sense if the only goal is to make money. In a lot of the decisions I can’t even see what the goal WAS. The church may have actually brainwashed itself at this point… fascinating.

The book is definitely not well-written, but when you look at the background of the author it’s easily forgiven. The sentences are stilted and dry, and often lack any emotion, but, well… it seems pretty damn representative of what the church attempts to do to a mind. Definitely worth a look if you’re curious.

I hope I don’t get sued for writing this “suppressive” review!

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