What starts out as a weekly anonymous tryst between a divorced man and a married woman turns into a searing portrait of loneliness and emotional need. Directed by Patrice Chereau, Intimacy won the Golden Bear for the Best Film at the 2001 Berlin Film Festival where lead actress Kerry Fox also won Best Actress Award. Based on Hanif Kureishi’s controversial novel, Intimacy was selected to play at the Sundance and New York Film Festivals.
eyelights: its strong performances. its heat.
eyesores: its muddy construction. its dreariness.
“Very strong people can be totally incomprehensible things, right?”
‘Intimacy’ is a 2001 British motion picture about a man who left his young family six years ago and, adrift ever since, finds solace in the arms of a mysterious woman who comes calling at his apartment every Wednesday at 2pm. Not only are they strangers, but they never speak, and the woman leaves immediately after their brief encounters.
One day, however, after sex, he wakes up to find her still there. He sits and watches her, intrigued. And when she wakes and rushes off, Jay decides to follow her. Though he loses her at first, the next time he’s introduced to her world when he follows her to a small pub, in which she performs Laura Wingfield in ‘The Glass Menagerie’.
It changes everything: he becomes fascinated with her and puts her neatly ordered life in disarray.
Disconnected though he’d been years, he now seeks intimacy.
At all costs.
The first time that I saw this picture, many years ago, I was a bit put off by how grim it was: Jay has really hit rock bottom and can’t seem to find any hope in his life. And though his fascination is a ray of light for him, it’s very destructive. It left me feeling a bit depressed as none of these characters had much to redeem them.
I guess I’d been expecting for something steamy: the front of DVD warned buyers that it contained explicit sex. Where I come from, this is not at all habitual, which suggested something really naughty. And though the sex felt pretty real, and could be raw and sexy (and explicit, it must be noted), it wasn’t passionate enough to compensate.
The structure didn’t help: it flashed back and forth between Jay’s past and present in a way that made him come off like a jerk for leaving his family, though he may have been justified. There were also scenes that were just wedged in with no apparent rhyme or reason, like when he suddenly rescues his best friend from a shooting gallery.
Um, whatever lead to that?
Thankfully, the performances are fairly convincing. I’m guessing that the leads had to get into character to have such torrid scenes, which included full frontal nudity and actual sexual contact (‘Intimacy’ was the first English-language picture to go uncut in Great Britain); you really have to believe in the part you’re playing to do that.
This time, though I didn’t find the characters appealing (though he’s damaged goods, Jay really can be cruel), I appreciated the strength of the performances a lot more. Perhaps it’s a question of adjusted expectations, but I empathized with both Jay and Claire, who felt trapped in their lives and found momentary escape in each other’s arms.
But I appreciated Andy, Claire’s spouse, even more than them: at first he seems clueless, but he’s actually conflict-avoidant. He’s a complicated character because he’s aware of the transgressions, but only responds in subtleties, in banter laced with double meaning. The performance could have been stronger, but Andy was truly fascinating.
So, ultimately, while I’m still not enamoured with ‘Intimacy’, I’ve warmed up to it. It’s a bit dreary and it’s surprisingly sloppy coming from Patrice Chéreau, director ‘La Reine Margot’, a bloody masterpiece, but it has its redeeming values. It’s not a picture that I’d watch very often, but I’m glad I revisited it as I’m now more likely to.
Date of viewing: March 18, 2017