[WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS] What's it about French auteur Patrice Leconte's films? They're essentially talk-fests. Yet, whether he's delving into the life of a reclusive peeping tom, enjoying games of wit at court at Versailles or celebrating a middle-aged man's sensual obsession with getting haircuts from women, Leconte turns simple stories into unforgettable films. In "Intimate Strangers," Leconte reunites with actress Sandrine Bonnaire and works from a script by Jérôme Tonnerre, who penned the exquisite love story, "Un coeur en hiver" (1992). Most filmmakers would have saved the twist about Anna (Bonnaire), an attractive woman, finding out the man she believed was a shrink actually is a tax lawyer, William Faber (Fabrice Luchini). But not Leconte. He gives it to us early and uses then that tidbit to make this a mesmerizing film. As Anna returns to William to unload her problems, Bonnaire and Luchini slowly build a thoroughly absorbing intimacy. Anna reminded me of an older version of Alice, the young woman strangely fascinated by her peeper in Leconte's brilliant, "Monsieur Hire" (1989). So, I suppose, it's fitting that Bonnaire played both women. Just as odd Mr. Hire captivated Alice, Anna finds William intriguing. Leconte and Tonnerre also toss in a goodly amount of humor. William seeks counsel about Anna from the very man she mistook him for - Dr. Monnier (Michel Duchaussoy), who looks like a stouter John Huston; and William also remains tangled with his ex, Jeanne (Anne Brochet), who hasn't quite gotten over the breakup despite finding a new lover. Leconte's genius is that he constantly keeps us guessing. Everything may not be quite as it seems in this film. Is someone being conned? We get snippets about Anna from others, including her husband Marc (Gilbert Melki), but they might not be truthful, either. "Love is an incurable sickness," Marc tells William. That's the crux of this story. William would never tell Anna how enraptured he is by her, but she's too smart not to know this and subtly toys with him. When we first see Anna, she's a drably dressed, a bit nervy. As she visits more often, her confidence grows, her dresses more revealing. In one lovely moment, Leconte tantalizes us with a sly look at her cleavage. Meanwhile, William, who lives and works in the apartment where he was born and now runs his dad's business, also changes, less obviously, but more importantly. He breaks out in rare spontaneity and removes his tie. This is crafty, witty, sophisticated storytelling, using the vagaries of marriage to create a superbly written psychological drama with deft touches of humor. Leconte revels in subtleties. Nothing's overwrought about his film. There's no sex, but Bonnaire and Luchini make their relationship sexy and deeply romantic. Contrast this with the American film, "The Door in the Floor," which also dealt with marital woes. It was labored and lacked focus, humor and emotional heft; in "Intimate Strangers," Leconte makes William and Anna's scenes more gripping than many suspense yarns. As I wrote in my review of "Monsieur Hire," I don't know whether only the French are capable of making such movies. But I am glad they do. Because "Intimate Strangers" is one of those films that made me ecstatic to be a cineaste.
Drama / Romance / Thriller
Drama / Romance / Thriller
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A Frenchwoman tells her marital troubles to a man she mistakes for a psychiatrist, and soon they form an unusual relationship.
October 27, 2020