Anna (Sandrine Bonnaire) walks into the psychiatrist's rooms for her first session, and finds a quiet, unresponsive man on the other side of the desk. One reason for his stillness is that he's not the psychiatrist, Dr Monnier (Michel Duchaussoy) down the corridor; the other reason is that he's a minor tax accountant, William Faber (Fabrice Luchini). But fascinated by Anna, William somehow can't bring himself to tell her the truth as she regales him with intimate details of her broken down marriage to Marc (Gilbert Merki), while William's veteran secretary, Jeanne (Anne Brochet) observes with world weary disdain. But even when Anna discovers the truth, she continues the sessions, and a strange but tangible relationship begins to bloom.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Subtle and elegant as Patrice Leconte usually is, Intimate Strangers - written by Jérôme Tonnerre - is perhaps a tad too subtle and too elegant. And not a little dry. The premise is engaging, and the most of the performances are fascinating, from the underplayed William by Fabrice Lucchini to the mothering Jeanne, who can wither an unwelcome visitor with a glance or a jab at her ancient typerwriter's keyboard. I also like the psychiatrist as subtly skewered by Michel Duchaussoy, a smug pro who charges for every conversation, even with William who isn't a client.
Sandrine Bonnaire is a little disappointing, though, not because of her performance; she's always credible and interesting, but because she's miscast as a character whose past and whose demons seem to have left her unaffected. Bonnaire gives us a surface version of Anna, as she tells us her troubled childhood and troubled marriage, but we never really connect with any of that.
The relationship that builds gradually - and beautifully controlled by Patrice - between William and Anna never really ignites our emotional interest. There's too much restraint here, and the husband's contradictory actions do nothing to help.
The screenplay has the tension of an ever-revving engine - and the resultant let down when we find that it only gets to move at 5kph.
Review by Louise Keller:
Suspense, intrigue, an undercurrent of desire..... not the emotions you might expect from a love story. Intimate Strangers is more than an encounter between two opposites. Patrice Leconte delivers a journey of emotional complexity: eroticism without nudity, tension with a playful touch. This is a film for the connoisseur - of film, and of life.
Like Leconte's Man on The Train, in which a bank robber and a retired teacher connect with each other, Intimate Strangers explores the impact between an orderly tax accountant and a woman of mystery. Propelled by a fluid, intense and melodic score that spirals from great heights of claustrophobia to classic romanticism, the mood is almost tangible. There are moments that almost explode with understated sexual tension, while others are reminiscent of a Hitchcockian thriller.
The premise is beguiling - a troubled woman reveals her secrets to a man she thinks is a psychiatrist. And as we learn, a tax consultant has more in common with a psychiatrist than you would imagine. After all, both specialise in assessing what to declare and what to hide.
Cesar Award winner Fabrice Luchini's conservative William Faber, whose entire life takes place in his orderly tax consultancy, is a creature of habit. His after-hours moments, when he meticulously puts away his clothes, prepares his meals and cleans his apartment, are as predictable as his daily wardrobe of pin-striped suit, shirt and co-ordinated tie. Sandrine Bonnaire's Anna is vulnerable and reticent, while being secretive and manipulative. Is she in need of rescuing or is she a femme fatale? It's a push-me pull-me relationship and Luchini and Bonnaire sparkle together.
The tension develops subtly and builds until it roars. The relationship between William and Anna see-saws from the first few awkward meetings until their roles are reversed. In the early scenes, as Anna talks about her life and her background, the camera rests on William's face, which suddenly comes alive. The scene when William sings and dances in front of the mirror to Wilson Pickett's In the Midnight Hour, opens our eyes to the fact that there is more to him than we imagined. An inquisitive secretary, a sympathetic psychiatrist, a patient with phobias, a bored tenant who watches TV soaps, an ex-lover and a psychotic husband: these are the other characters we meet as the relationship between William and Anna develops.
A story of obsession, relationships and self discovery, Intimate Strangers may be subtle, but it packs a pretty punch. Never predictable and constantly stimulating, this is a film that lingers - intimately.
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INTIMATE STRANGERS (MA)
Confidences trop intimes
CAST: Sandrine Bonnaire, Fabrice Luchini, Michel Duchaussoy, Anne Brochet, Gilbert Melki, Laurent Gamelon, Hélène Surgère, Urbain Cancelier, Isabelle Petit-Jacques
PRODUCER: Alain Sarde
DIRECTOR: Patrice Leconte
SCRIPT: Jérôme Tonnerre
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Eduardo Serra
EDITOR: Joëlle Hache
MUSIC: Pascal Estève
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Ivan Maussion
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 14, 2004