Cinema Club: Intimacy (2001)

Posted on July 23, 2013

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‘Intimacy’ (Patrice Chereau, 2001)

I don’t think I could have chosen a different film to watch after ‘Kolya’ yesterday.

‘Intimacy’ is set in London, with two leads suffering different forms of misery. Jay is a prickly depressed barman who walked out on his family. Claire, whose name isn’t made clear until well into the film, is an amateur actress in a marriage that provides nothing other than security. They embark on an affair of sorts, except it only happens on a Wednesday and no words are spoken. This seems fine for a while, but Jay slowly gets curious and begins following her to find out more. He befriends her husband (wonderfully played by Timothy Spall) and son, and as things start to unravel the pure physical is replaced by tortured emotion. The film itself is mostly known for the explicit sex scenes, and I would imagine a lot of people watched it with this in mind and view it as a film about sex. What it really is, is a film about incredibly lost people realizing they lack connection of any sort, and desperately trying to find an (I’m sorry for the pun) intimate connection somewhere.

I had very mixed feelings about the whole thing. It manages to be simultaneously ugly and beautiful throughout. The shots in the crowded bars, the decrepit houses and grey tower blocks constitute the ugly parts. The sex scenes, whilst being way more visual and explicit than what you’ll normally find in non-pornographic cinema, are beautiful in their simplicity and sheer nakedness. What is made strikingly clear is that there are two main types of intimacy that exist in a relationship, that of emotional intimacy and primal physical intimacy. Mind versus Body. Whilst being two sides of a pretty violent coin, eventually it is inevitable that they will begin to bleed into each other. As Jay is visited more and more by Claire, the emotional intimacy that he craves begins to bloom inside the physical intimacy that he is now receiving. It seems that his marriage ended because his wife had lost all interest in their relationship, and Claire’s visits are the equivalent of a breaking dam one would assume, if you’ll pardon the visual.

Indeed, it is the internal tortures of Jay that dominate the film. Mark Rylance puts in a pretty darn good performance in the role of a man going nowhere who finally has something he can sink his teeth in. He is surrounded by a variety of strange characters, including his French co-barman Ian and old friend Victor, who for the first hour and a bit is possibly the most pathetic thing I can imagine. Claire’s character doesn’t really get fleshed out at all until the second hour, and she too is surrounded by ridiculousness, all be it a far more homely one.

‘Intimacy’ has a reputation for being unforgiving. You can read that as a reference to the film or the state, both work. My only real gripes with it were the length, which was too long for the story itself to stay gripping, and thus the excess of dialogue throughout, a lot of which seemed unnecessary. Even during the first hour, where truth be told there wasn’t too much of it, seemed too much. Going back to the sex scenes however, I will say that Kerry Fox (Claire) played a blinder, her eyes in particular. There was a very clear lack of emotion in them up until the end, which gave the last half hour an emotional potency lacking in the first. The introduction of her husband provided an upturn as well, as I really can’t say enough about Timothy Spall here. He is pitch-perfect as the betrayed husband who has nothing to offer his wife.

It’s a film full of people who are in lives they don’t want, but are struggling to get out of. It could be very easy to identify with, or way too close to home to do so.

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Posted in: Cinema