Adapted from short stories by Hanif Kureishi,
INTIMACY marks the
 English-language debut of the fine French filmmaker Patrice Chereau. The
 film has already engendered much controversy in Europe (where it picked
 up awards at the Berlin Film Festival) over its explicit nature, particularly
 one sex act that is not often seen in mainstream feature films.
 was also screened at the 2001 New York Film Festival before its commercial
 run in the USA where critics have been divided over its success.

         Jay (Mark Rylance) is the recently separated father of two. Unhappy
 in his marriage, he opted out and settled in a run down flat while working
 as a bar manager. He has a couple of pals (including a gay bartender) but
 for the most part keeps to himself. Before the film starts, he has had a
 one-night stand with a woman (Kerry Fox) who surprisingly returned the
 following week. A pattern then developed; she would arrive at his squalid
 flat in the middle of the day and they would engage in fierce -- one might
 almost say violent -- but wordless sex. No names exchanged, no strings
 attached. Soon Jay begins to look forward to these encounters (which
 Chereau and his director of photography Eric Gautier capture with hand-held
 cameras in an almost predatory and intimate manner).

         At some point for Jay, though, the need to know kicks in. He is not
 content to just have intercourse with this woman -- who remains a stranger
 to him. Jay obviously wants to embrace E.M. Forster's dictum to "Only
 connect", so he sets out to learn what he can about this mystery female
 by following her. It doesn't take long for him to learn that her name is
 Claire and that's she's an amateur actress, currently trodding the boards
 in a production of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie. She also
 teaches acting to a ragged bunch that includes the blowzy Betty (Marianne
 Faithful in a terrific supporting turn). But perhaps most importantly, Claire
 is married to a lumpen taxi driver named Andy (a remarkable performance
 from Timothy Spall). Jay and Andy strike up an acquaintance and those
 scenes are among the most difficult in the film to watch, in part because
 the audience is left unsure just how much Andy knows. When Claire realizes
 what Jay has learned, damage is done to their relationship. The freeing
 aspect of sex without any ties has been superseded; the question
 remained, by what?

         Chereau directs with a clear eye and evokes the unspoken politics of
 a sexual relationship that moves from equality to shifting balances of control.
 In adapting Kureishi's stories, the director and co-writer Anne-Louise Trividic
 have distilled the essence without sacrificing drama. As in his previous
 efforts, he has cast the roles with impeccable exactitude and has been
 rewarded by some of the best work in each performer's career. Rylance has
 made his name in England as the artistic director of the new Globe Theater
 and as a Shakespearean player. With Jay, he delivers a spectacular turn of
 an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary experiences. While not a
 conventionally handsome leading man, Rylance projects the force of a man
 who would attract a woman like Claire. Fox has the more difficult role of
 the two and she is equally impressive, whether it is privately dissolving
 in tears over the mess her life has become or her attempt to juggle the
 men in her life. Equally and together, Rylance and Fox elevate
 into something worth seeing.

Rating:           B
© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.