Intimacy (2001) Movie Review

“Intimacy” is the kind of film that you never see being made in America. This could be for a number of reasons, from the average American’s belief that anything with vast amounts of nudity should be rated XXX (or that mind boggling NC-17) or be tossed into the frozen wasteland of late-night cable television. It’s a shame really because a film like “Intimacy” is so gloriously beautiful, even when everything onscreen is so grimy and dirty, that it deserves to be seen. “Intimacy” exposes a part of all of our lives and it needn’t be hindered by a foolish rating system. (That, incidentally, is why I never bother to display the rating of a movie on these review pages.)

Directed by a Frenchman and starring English actors Kerry Fox (“The Point Men”) and Mark Rylance, “Intimacy” tells the tale of two strangers who engage in a seemingly loveless affair, meeting every Wednesday afternoon and then parting ways until the next Wednesday. There doesn’t seem to be any love or passion to the sex between Jay (Rylance) and Claire (Fox), and in fact the two don’t even know each other’s names. Their only conversation before their frantic couplings on the bare floor are of the inane kind, the kind that is not worth starting in the first place. Things start to fall apart when Jay, on the spur of the moment, decides to follow Claire home. He ends up at her workplace, where besides learning that Claire is an aspiring actress, he meets her husband, a taxi driver, and son…

A lot of people (myself included) have often accused the French of using gratuitous nudity in the name of art (the film “Baise Moi” comes to mind), but “Intimacy”, which contains plenty of graphic sex and displays every inch of the human body (male and female), makes me re-think that belief. The sex and nudity in “Intimacy” is really unimportant, just as it seems to be an insignificant matter for Jay and Claire. To them the sex is just a byproduct of their relationship — if you can call it that. It’s a mutual symbiosis between Jay, a man who left his wife and two sons one day, and Claire, an aging woman who finds a measure of passion for life with the (seemingly) passionless Jay. Their affair is more about salvation than it is about the sex, because it’s very obvious neither one of them gets very much out of it. As it stands, each sex scene between them gets even less and less passionate, until it becomes almost a near-rape of Claire by Jay.

“Intimacy” does one very daring thing that I could never imagine a Hollywood-produced film doing (or actors submitting to it, for that matter). It’s not too hard to imagine that director Chereau had instructed his leading actors to come to the set with some pounds on them. Rather this is really the case or not, the physical appearances of all involved (including sex partners Jay and Claire) all conform to the real world. These aren’t supermodels posing as “real people,” or vain actors who spends hours in the gym each and every day with their personal trainers because they’ve been told they’ll be doing a lot of nude scenes. Fox and Rylance have fat on their body, they are not in the best of shapes (mentally and physically), and Chereau and cinematographer Eric Gautier show their faces in stark lighting, revealing every fault and line. These people look, feel, and are real.

Much of the set for “Intimacy” is bathed in shadows. From Jay’s run-down, pigsty of a bachelor’s pad (he moved out of his house after he left his wife), to Jay’s wrinkled appearance, the film’s aesthetics ring true. Jay’s apartment, of course, also reflects his current state of emotional confusion. Jay is lost, a man who had to give up his musical career when his wife became pregnant, and whose only joy is to go to work at a trendy bar where he serves as the undisputed king of the bar. Even those moments are rare, since he eventually has to return home, and back to himself.

It is at work that Jay meets Ian (Philippe Calvario), a young Frenchman who, it turns out, knows more about Jay than Jay does. The only other friend in Jay’s desolate life is Victor (Alastair Galbraith), a junkie whose own life is a mess. The two share a bond because of their experiences, and we get the feeling “Intimacy” could have starred Galbraith’s Victor as the main character and Rylance’s Jay as the best friend and nothing would have changed.

The rest of the cast, including Timothy Spall as Andy, Claire’s emotionally unavailable husband, all brings a lot of baggage to the film. In fact, the whole film is one big reservoir for emotional baggage. All of these people seem unable to veer away from the road to self-destruction no matter how much they try — that is, if they try at all. Besides the young characters that seem immune and oblivious to the degradation of their adult counterparts, every character that exists in Chereau’s “Intimacy” seems destined for ruin. That is, ruin of their own making, and no else’s.

“Intimacy” is a terrific film that exposes the turmoil of the human soul and the timeless confusion and carnage that rages within all of us, rather we know it or not. Director Patrice Chereau has crafted a fine tale of alienation and need that is such an emotional tour de force that one can’t help but feel emotionally and physically drained when it’s all over. “Intimacy” is truly a powerful film that despite being covered in ugliness, is very beautiful to behold.

Patrice Ch’reau (director) / Patrice Ch’reau, Hanif Kureishi, Anne-Louise Trividic (screenplay)
CAST: Mark Rylance …. Jay
Kerry Fox …. Claire
Susannah Harker …. Susan
Alastair Galbraith …. Victor
Philippe Calvario …. Ian

Buy Intimacy on DVD