Following on from Nat’s appraisal of three of Patrice Leconte’s acclaimed earlier films, Alex Hewison reviews his latest effort: Intimate Strangers. It’s a disappointingly lacklustre work comprised of tendentious sex talk and lingering camera shots. Pathé’s disc is rudimentary and includes only a trailer by way of extra features.
Anna (Sandrine Bonnaire) is dissatisfied with her marriage, a common affliction that women the world over endure but one she hopes to remedy by enlisting the counsel of a therapist. She arrives at the flustered Dr. Monnier’s office and after a teary preamble and a brief overview of the sorry state of her marriage, arranges the date at which the first of their emotionally restorative sessions will take place. It is only after she leaves that we discover Anna has in fact mistakenly stumbled into the office of William (Fabrice Luchini), a morose tax accountant whose areas of wisdom are concentrated on the certainty of numbers and do not extend to the irrational troubles of the human heart. William does not try to keep up the pretence of being a psychologist and Anna soon gets wind of her error…but decides to keep seeing him anyway.
Intimate Strangers is the work of a distinctive director who has become so comfortable within his cinematic idiom that he seems quite disinterested in making films for anyone other than himself. The first fifty minutes of Patrice Leconte’s most recent work are engaging but by the hour mark things begin to slide into tiresome self-indulgence. It’s all very well for Anna to carp about the intractable uselessness of her husband around the home and in the bed but Leconte never brings the film’s several heated plot threads to a head, letting the narrative meander and peter away in the final half hour. The film initially seems to be modelled on one of Claude Chabrol’s slow burning thrillers; it’s replete with the archly phrased and intoned dialogue that Chabrol and long-time collaborator Isabelle Huppert have nigh on perfected but lacking in Chabrol’s assured direction and devilish insight. Luchini isn’t especially convincing – for a kindly paradigm of masculine sensitivity he possesses one of the most truly menacing smiles in cinema – but Bonnaire is better, portraying Anna’s progression from a meekly disorientated housewife to a self-assertive beauty with the kind of humane delicacy that Intimate Strangers is so desperately in need of.
Despite his predilection for intimate close-ups, Leconte – seemingly without fail – shoots his movies in scope. The 2.35:1 transfer, despite the regrettably burned-in subtitles, is as clear and sharp as one would expect for such a recent film – deep blacks, strong colours and a generally sharp image. I noticed the occasional sign of digital artefacting but otherwise this is a good transfer.
Sound-wise things are less remarkable. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is rather flat, though this is more a by-product of the film’s chat heavy soundtrack than poor mixing. There’s nothing exactly wrong with it, however, and it’s satisfactory in most aspects.
A clumsy trailer that makes the film appear even more obtuse than it already is.
Fellow DVD Times reviewer Nat Tunbridge recently reviewed three of Leconte’s earlier films: Tango, Yvonne’s Perfume and The Hairdresser’s Husband. For those wishing to see Leconte flex his ample filmmaking talents I’d recommend you investigate any of those aforementioned works. For those wanting to see Leconte at his lethargically elliptical worst, you can’t go wrong with Intimate Strangers.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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