review by Emma French, 9 November 2001

Adapted from Hanif Kureishi’s novel of the same title and his stories Nightlight, Strangers When we Meet and Love in a Blue Time, Intimacy provides a viewing experience that mirrors its protagonists’ frustrating lack of fulfilment. The film’s apparently uncompromising honesty regarding emotional relationships is subverted by the unrelenting manner in which its points are made. The unrelieved grimness of Jay (Mark Rylance) and Claire’s (Kerry Fox) affair engenders a feeling that a real marriage or sexual encounter is never quite as joyless as those on show here. The voyeurism of the camera is too intense for sexiness, placing the sex acts under a microscope until they become abstracted into a melee of body parts. Even the brief, much-vaunted shot of oral sex, reputedly the first to be screened in a mainstream picture, is so real that it is unreal, and devoid of sensuality.

The leads are impressive: Mark Rylance, delivers a strong performance and Kerry Fox’s success in a gruelling part was rewarded with a Best Actress award at Berlin this year. Timothy Spall as Claire’s husband Andy delivers a typically layered and scene-stealing performance. The presence of Marianne Faithful in a cameo role strains narrative credibility but she plays her part well. Rylance is best known in Britain as the artistic director of The Globe Theatre, where he has staged productions of Shakespeare’s plays with male actors in even the female roles, just as they would have been in Shakespeare’s day. Rylance probes gender relationships in a very different context here, but The Globe’s tenuous claims of accurate reconstruction are paralleled by the inauthentic nature of Chéreau’s mannered realism.

Though written and acted by British talent, Intimacy has a French cinematographer, and it is the director Patrice Chéreau’s first English language picture (best-known for his film Queen Margot, or La Reine Margot). It is tempting to ascribe the extraordinarily unforgiving treatment meted out to London in this film to an outsider’s perspective. The city has never looked quite so bleak, dun and alienating, an appropriate backdrop to the story but an overly harsh depiction of the real London. The bleak ugliness of Jay’s flat, where the lovers meet every Wednesday afternoon for their passionate non-verbal sex sessions, ensure that even the intense eroticism of the film’s first half hour is fatally compromised.

The inability of the sessions to continue once discourse and knowledge has been introduced is poignant and convincing. Jay and Claire, both on the run from marital and parental responsibilities, must maintain the illusion that their relationship is fuelled solely by sexual gratification. The moment Jay follows Claire to a pub cellar where she plays Laura in a production of The Glass Menagerie is the moment the spell begins to be broken. Jay’s ensuing, odd friendship with Claire’s husband consolidates the damage.

Though the reasoning behind the end of Jay and Claire’s trysts is made clear, their rationale for beginning their liaisons is left frustratingly opaque. Meaningless sex would be easy for Jay’s trendy bar manager character and an aspiring actress such as Claire without recourse to the glum trappings and risky routine of weekly trysts in a New Cross flat. Though this elusiveness of meaning and coherence reflects the film’s primary message, that even under the starkest scrutiny human motivations are inscrutable, plausibility of logic and character motivation is too often tested.

Directed by:
Patrice Chéreau

Mark Rylance
Peter Cullen
Kerry Fox
Marianne Faithfull
Timothy Spall

Written by:
Patrice Chéreau
Hanif Kureishi
Anne-Louise Trividic

NR - Not Rated.
This film has not
yet been rated.






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