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As any masterful strategist knows, picking the perfect enemy is as important as selecting one’s ally.
But why did Hollywood producer and Oscar award-magnet Harvey Weinstein publicly trash the godfather of France’s far right, Jean-Marie Le Pen, just days after a Weinstein import, The Artist, quietly rocked the Academy Awards?
If Weinstein were almost any other American producer fresh from shepherding a French-made and mostly silent black-and-white film to five improbable Oscars, he would probably still be polishing those trophies and trying to capitalize at the box office.
But as an aggressive movie-industry legend whose films have won 86 Oscars, Weinstein is not like other producers. The television show Entourage immortalized Weinstein — especially in an episode titled, “Sorry, Harvey” — in which a stunning, foul-mouthed, abusive film producer named “Harvey Weingard” curses out waiters, threatens to destroy various actors’ careers, and brandishes a knife over dinner with one of the main characters. (A Weinstein rep commented to Variety magazine in 2007 that the producer thinks Entourage is a “fun and entertaining show.”)
So perhaps it is no wonder that Weinstein is already hard at work to make sure that France’s enormously successful film, The Intouchables, enjoys a similar reception in the United States.
The fish-out-of-water, interracial buddy movie tells the story of a poor, young black man from a suburban ghetto who is hired to care for a bourgeois, white, quadriplegic Parisian man. It may not sound like a recipe for surefire comedy, but the feel-good movie about a former convict who teaches his wheelchair-bound boss how to live again has become the second-highest-grossing film on French soil, ever. (It has sold nearly one ticket for every three French citizens.) The lion’s share of the film’s $250 million take has come from France, a country with one-fifth of the U.S. population — meaning that an equivalent success in the United States would be a billion-dollar movie. That’s bigger than Titanic or Avatar.
Critically, the film scored excellent reviews in France. Highbrow critics tended to note their suspicions about the politically correct-sounding core concept, only to revel in the film’s on-screen execution and the performances of its acting duo. Most ranked the film as good or excellent. At one press screening, jaded French film critics — generally a cerebral group that avoids public displays of affection — actually applauded, vigorously. The left-leaning Nouvel Observateur magazine went further, commenting: “There is no point in beating around the bush: The Intouchables is a miracle.”
The public felt the same, only more so. The film’s average ranking out of some 5,500 reviews on France’s AlloCiné website is 4.5 stars out of five, with 58 percent giving it the maximum. And two days before the Oscars, one of the stars of The Intouchables, Omar Sy — who plays the ex-con — beat out Jean Dujardin of The Artist for the best-actor César award (the French equivalent of the Oscar), making Sy the first black man in French history to win in that category.