Intimacy (18)

Review by Marc Ashdown


AS WITH all films which gain notoriety for the content of single scenes, Intimacy's much-publicised treatment of sex has elevated it into the public eye way before its release.

Though the sex will overshadow the story, perhaps a little unfairly, the act itself has certainly never been portrayed in quite such an unelegant, mundane and, well, unsexy, light as here.

Always a subject which gets the critical pens scribbling furiously, sex in the movies has previously been something of a curious affair: always glamorous and keen to present perfect characters with well-formed bodies romantically doing what the heart desires, and to hell with the rest.

But in reality it is never as simple as movies would profess, and just as David Lynch has spent a career peeling paint off the perfect picket fences of Smalltown America to reveal something altogether more ugly; Patrice Chereau delves into the murky depths of the human mind to paint a bleak picture of a society driven by need, for both desire and survival.

Why Jay (Mark Rylance) and Clare (Kerry Fox) meet every Wednesday for simplistic no-questions-asked sex, is never made clear. Instead the focus is on the act itself: raw, ruthless, almost animalistic as the pair circle each other and pounce, to the rythm of their breathing, to satisfy their basic physical desire.

There is no emotion involved, just satisfaction. Going against all that has been drip fed us before, sex is stripped of its sugar coated exterior and reduced to an ugly, needy business, fraught with flesh and fumbling and less to do with love and instead portrayed as a ritualistic, though recreational, chore.

Hollywood would also have us believe that from here we see the woman take on an obsessive manic demeanour as she sets about ruining her suitor's otherwise perfect life.

But with Hanif Kureishi (author of the superb Buddha of Suburbia) nothing is that simple. It's Jay who succumbs to curiosity and follows Clare into her world, breaking the invisible boundaries they have observed so far, and with predictably catastrophic consequences.

No doubt Fox earned her Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival, but it is Rylance and Timothy Spall (as her downtrodden husband) who shine. Their verbal sparring, disguised as blokes down the pub chatting over pool, does much to reflect the central theme that the best communication is done, not through spoken word, but in the subtle nuances we emit subconsciously.

This really is no easy ride and though an intense, fascinating study of human behaviour when faced with emotional turmoil, it's also frustratingly contrived and loses its way slightly with what it's trying to say.

Chereau's direction is sporadic too, and although it never fails to hold the attention has a tendency to get bogged down with frivolous details. The use of settings and colour filters, though, lends another dimension, which works well at holding the narrative together.

Hard as it may be to stomach, it strives to represent a brave and bold unspoken truth about the underlying emotions buried in us all - which has to be applauded. Bleak, surreal, yet utterly engrossing and absorbing throughout.