Married Claire (Kerry Fox) visits Jay (Mark Rylance) every Wednesday for sex. He’s divorced with two kids, she’s married to Andy (Tomothy Spall) and dabbles in amateur theatre at a pub. Their arms-length relationship is both painful and addictive, destructive yet somehow important. When Jay tries to find out more about her – he doesn’t even know her name – the complications rapidly increase.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
You could write a book about the echoes and connections between films like Intimacy, Romance, A Pornographic Affair and In the Realm Of The Senses, but I’m not going to. All I want to say on that subject is that anyone who has seen all four will have plenty to talk about over Pernod (or saki) at the bar. Intimacy, like Romance, is a title that invades the film itself by its irony. And that’s great, but not enough. Controversial for its theme and for its perving camera which captures his penis, her crotch, her breasts, the condom being put on and the heaving, writhing sex that Jay and Claire engage in (twice in the first 20 minutes), the film is as unromantic as Romance. The cinematic difference between people having sex and people making love is a matter of shooting style and camera angles. So here they are having sex. We know so because we see the dangly bits. It’s unromantic and grey, just like the city they do it in – London. This occupies the first hour, and it gets a bit tedious. As things develop after that, we follow a search for truth and the glue of intimate relationships, but wisely, there are no answers offered. The hand held camera and almost endless close ups give the film a sense of edginess, an unsettled, punch drunk feeling, denying us physical context but adding to the emotional tension. It’s a 50 – 50 result. For all my reservations, I do admire and enjoy the performances; Kerry Fox is mysterious yet openly vulnerable, and Mark Rylance is wonderfully dry, wry and wretched. His ever so slightly odd accent is tantalising and endearing, and his beat up good looks gives him an anti-hero stamp with classic noir origins. A bit like sex without emotion, Intimacy goes through the paces but we end up hungry.
Review by Jake Wilson:
Due to its explicit and partly non-simulated sex scenes, Intimacy has received a lot of publicity as a 'controversial' new release. This is fair enough, I suppose, but also misleading. It's not a film about perversion or sado-masochism: the characters inflict a good deal of pain on each other, but mainly in ways that are emotional rather than directly sexual. Generally when we see Jay and Claire having sex together it looks fairly straightforward and satisfying; it's when Jay starts to distrust this amicable arrangement that things get messy. The first section of the film is intriguing (and frustrating) partly because it takes a long time to learn much about who these people actually are (as opposed to how their bodies appear in motion). Neither transgressive nor revelatory, sex is rendered as an unavoidable fact of life, continuous with the muck of the everyday. Chereau's hovering camera and close-miked sound insist without malice on the couple's fumblings with condoms, or their graceless orgasmic gasps above the sounds of nearby traffic. It's an interesting fusion of British and European styles, the combination of handheld camerawork and widescreen format suggesting at once freedom and weight - the density of a world beyond the frame, and the effort required to keep it in focus. It's possible that Intimacy is more a string of impressive scenes than a complete movie, yet director Patrice Chereau and his lead actors take a worthwhile risk in having both Jay and Claire remain opaque and surly throughout, never allowing either of them to fit 'an easy pattern of behavior' (as John Cassavetes once put it). It's fascinating as well to see the enigmatic central couple alongside the more theatrical, half-caricatured acting style of Timothy Spall (whose character seems on loan from a Mike Leigh movie). The extensive use of theatre-within-the-film also seems like a Cassavetes debt - roleplaying is a central theme throughout, perhaps because the actors re required to reveal so much of their private selves. As we watch these lovers grappling on the floor, the distinction between character and actor
threatens to evaporate, along with any clear personality that can be attributed to either - leaving only the weight of the body and its mysterious drives.
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A Pornographic Affair
Realm of Senses
CAST: Mark Rylance, Kerry Fox, Timothy Spall, Alastair Galbraith, Philippe Calvario,
PRODUCER: Patrick Cassavetti, Charles Gassot, Jacques Hinstin
DIRECTOR: Patrice Chéreau
SCRIPT: Patrice Chéreau, Hanif Kureishi, Anne-Louise Trividic
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Eric Gautier
EDITOR: François Gédigier
MUSIC: Éric Neveux
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Hayden Griffin
RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 24, 2002 (Melbourne); January 31, 2002 (Sydney); other
states to follow.
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: July 16, 2003