2001, NR, 119 min. Directed by Patrice Chéreau. Starring Mark Rylance, Kerry Fox, Alastair Galbraith, Timothy Spall, Phillipe Calvario, Marianne Faithfull.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 11, 2002
Don't let the title fool you: This is one of the most desperately bleak love stories to come down the pike in some time; it's slightly less romantic than watching the amoebic mergings of some roving bacillus, but only slightly. Based on the novel of the same name and a shorter work entitled Night Light by My Beautiful Laundrette's Hanif Kureishi, and directed by Patrice Chéreau of Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train, Intimacy grapples, sweatily, with the notion of modern love lodged in a void, in this case London. The film has netted a raft of awards already, not to mention some raised eyebrows thanks to Chéreau's insistence on turning the camera on his lovers Claire (Kerry Fox of Shallow Grave) and Jay (Mark Rylance) as they tussle about on the dingy floor and quickly turn lobster-red from their exertions. Is this a Fox reality special? Cocks, maybe? God help us, everyone. The conceit in both Kureishi's novel and Chereau's film is that Jay, a middle-aged singleton who's recently struck out on his own and left his wife and two young sons behind, has begun a blazingly mundane “Wednesdays only” relationship with Claire, defined for and by their sexual contortions. They meet once a week at Jay's dismal basement flat (fuzzy, thudding rock & roll -- Nick Cave, actually, I think -- burbles down from his flatmate's space above) to heave the ho about, as it were, and then, with barely a word to each other, depart for other worlds. It's neither sexy nor sexist, just depressing, to which anyone who's floundered through a redoubtable one-night/week/month stand can grimly attest. For much of the film, the discontent duo don't even know each other's names. It's only later that Jay, who spends his nights managing a local bar with an iron and somewhat whiny paw, begins to feel a sense of creeping malaise about the whole nasty affair du coeur. Striking out on his own, he follows Claire back to her lair, which turns out to sport a morose and moribund husband named Andy (Timothy Spall of Mike Leigh's Topsy-Turvy) and yet another broodling. Jay and Andy make nice, sort of, while Jay continues his semi-stalking of Claire, psychically feeding off the images this newfound bourgeois trio impart. It's never clear, however, what, if any, motivation is behind the affair in the first place, or what either participant expects to achieve from their weekly dose of secretive carnality. Claire, we discover, has acting ambitions, and a nice house, but is she willing to drop them in favor of Jay's 30-minute shag-a-thon? We don't know, and neither does Claire. Chereau is big on hand-held camera shots, although the sex -- and there's a lot of it -- is shot steadily, in full frame, with virtually no cutaways. What you take away from Intimacy is this: Watching “normal” strangers make the beast with two backs is indeed beastly, and the repercussions, emotional and otherwise, are as blunt and mysterious as a sheathed organ, though not half as interesting if you're on the outside looking in. “Sex without love may be an empty experience,” Woody Allen famously said, “but as empty experience go, it's one of the best.” Intimacy suggests otherwise.