Directed by Patrice Chereau
Already infamous for its uncensored and unblinking sexual content, Intimacy tries to ask honest, open questions about love, sex, and relationships. It's unfortunate the end result is merely a mixed bag of art house daring and heavy-handed drama.
Jay (Mark Rylance, Prospero's Books) is the head bartender at a posh club. He's left his wife and two children without saying a word and traded in the cozy confines of the family's house for a dirty floor in a basement room of a friend's house.
Prior to his unannounced departure, Jay's wife asks if he loves his children. He doesn't say a word. He's tormented by domesticity and wants to run away from his responsibilities and loveless marriage. But he's still in need of… intimacy.
Living a spartan life as, essentially, an employed squatter, Jay makes some new social connections and starts a torrid affair with a woman. Meeting in the drab setting of his unfurnished basement, the two don't even know each other's name, but they carry on heated sexual relations without a spoken word. On Wednesday afternoons at 2. Like clockwork.
Jay becomes obsessed with knowing more about his mystery mistress. Trailing her across town, he finds her acting in the downstairs theatre of a pub. Her name is Claire (Kerry Fox, The Wisdom of Crocodiles). And she's got her own baggage.
She's Got a Way
To its credit, the movie sidesteps mere exploitation and offers up interesting dialogues on the human condition.
Questions such as "What have you learned?" and "Have you lived?" come up throughout the film, offering a theme of yearning and searching.
One of the best lines comes from one of the theatre/pub's regulars, Andy (Timothy Spall, Rock Star), when he explains to Jay, "Marriage is a war, a battle, a terrible journey." But, Andy concedes, it also gives life meaning.
There are other nice touches that, intentionally or not, convey a certain sense of alienation. One of the film's more stable characters, Ian (newcomer Philippe Calvario), is a fan of Billy Joel. This is the subject of ridicule for the less-than-stable Jay, who prefers to have dreary, slurred beats pumping through his Walkman.
The icy-blue tones of the cinematography also help perpetuate the film's themes of isolation and coldness.
Loosely based on the book by Hanif Kureishi, the film makes many unfortunate choices in its adaptation. The book is written in the first person, making Jay immediately accessible; cinematic Jay is an emotional curiosity. The book is also more a work of witty philosophy and observation than its brooding cinematic incarnation.
Unfortunately, most of the movie's minor characters overplay the isolation angle. They come across as oddballs living on the fringe of society; it's a wonder why Jay would seek out emotional attachment with such detached elements. In particular, Victor (Alastair Galbraith, The Debt Collector) is pathetic and appears to be simply a desperate loser. In the book, he's the bohemian friend who inspires Jay to set out on his own.
With The English Patient, Anthony Minghella took artistic license with a mediocre book and turned it into a cinematic masterpiece. Here, director Patrice Chereau (Queen Margot) and co-screenwriter Anne-Louise Trividic have turned a lively piece of literature into a somber and extremely pretentious dramatic exercise. Their efforts at artistic license, reshaping characters, and altering events fail to capture the tone of the book.
Rylance is an accomplished actor, having tackled Hamlet and Cymbeline on the stage of Shakespeare's (new) Globe in London, and his performance as Jay is worth watching. At the same time, though, what makes this guy tick is a big question that goes unanswered. In this case, a voiceover reflecting more of the novel's colorful views would have helped fill the gaps.
Among the film's many themes are the need for release and the importance of human contact and communication, but Jay's emotional retardation goes too far. Simply being a tormented character isn't enough to make the character sympathetic.
It comes across as hollow when, after dumping a talkative lass, Jay reveals to Claire that he wanted to learn what she knew about relationships – if only she would start talking. It's supposed to be a gut-wrenching confession, but it doesn't work.
Instead of appreciating that different people have different needs and concepts of happiness, the film seems to make a case that the well-adjusted human being is merely a mythological creature. That, more than anything, generates the film's feeling of depression and hopelessness.
Even though the movie is moderately engrossing, the ultimate feeling at the film's end is a lack of satisfaction. It's a feeling similar to Jay's empty relationships.
Intimacy, the movie, will be remembered for its uncompromising sex scenes more than for any other part of its content. While those scenes do have a spark of raw emotion, it's a shame the rest of the drama isn't as cutting-edge and doesn't capture more of the book's essence.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.