Saturday 9 January 2010

Intimacy (2001)

My strongest memory of Patrice Chéreau’s Intimacy (2001) was of its frank, lengthy sex scenes, sequences which caused considerable controversy at the time of the film’s appearance in 2001. (Had it been released at the end rather than the beginning of our thoroughly pornified decade, with its parade of filmic erections, penetrations and ejaculations (plus - thank you, Mr. von Trier - one significant auto-clitoredectomy) it seems likely that the movie would have created less of a hullabaloo.) I decided to revisit Intimacy nine years on, after liking Chéreau’s Son Frére (2003) so much, and I still think that the sex scenes are the film’s most impressive feature - those, and the strong roles that the movie offers for three fine actors: Kerry Fox, the too-rarely-seen-on-screen Mark Rylance and the very-often-seen (but always welcome) Timothy Spall, who, over the years, has become as sensitive and nuanced a performer as you can find. (Though I still treasure the memory of his broadly-caricatured Aubrey in Mike Leigh’s Life is Sweet [1991].)

Adapted from Hanif Kureishi's novel, Intimacy charts the spiralling, Last Tango-ish affair between Rylance’s Jay, a divorced father-of-two, and Fox’s Claire, who meet weekly for sex in Jay’s grotty South London flat. Spall plays Claire’s husband, with whom Jay forms an uneasy sort of alliance when, anxious to learn more about this woman who “comes round, fucks, then leaves,” he tracks her to a pub theatre where she’s playing Laura in The Glass Menagerie.

Intimacy excels in mood and atmosphere: it’s visually arresting, with Chéreau vibrantly capturing a sensuous-and-seedy London and creating sex scenes that are as expressive as they are explicit, and which succeed in conveying the shifting contours of the central relationship. In terms of narrative structure and dialogue, the film is much less effective: elements are simply too vague (we never even find out how Jay and Claire first met, for example) and, as in other Chéreau pictures, there are jarring moments and strange inconsistencies throughout. (Marianne Faithfull gives a very odd performance as a cock-er-nee acting student and friend of Claire’s.) Kureishi's dialogue can be hamfisted at the best of times, and this adaptation does it no favours at all. Since the movie never finds a verbal idiom to match its visual eloquence what you take away from it are scattered images: the opening shots (scored to Tindersticks) of Jay sleeping; dynamic scenes on the London streets; and the naked bodies, frantically seeking out the titular state. Troubling and flawed as it is, Intimacy deserves to be seen for all of these moments, and for the committed, intense performances of its leads.


  1. I wanted to see this film, but couldn't quite bring myself to see it in a cinema as I find graphic sex scenes rather difficult to watch in a public forum.(how sad is that?)
    Having said that I lived in sheffield at the time and I cannot remember it even being advertised at our one and only arthouse cinema "the showroom"

  2. I think it's still relatively rare to see a film such as this one, which approaches sex in an honest way that really expresses something about the characters and relationships. Best movie sex scenes? Discuss.

  3. *the final "shoot out" between Jennifer Jones and Gregory Peck in "duel in the sun"
    "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together - and blow
    sister Ruth's eyes when she has her sex starved breakdown in Black Narcissus
    Kim hunter "in the glow" as it were in A streetcar Named desire
    Kathleen Turner and William Hurt (of course) in Body Heat
    Catherine Deneuve and Susan Srandon (with bad hair) being all lesbo in The Hunger
    On the tumble dryers in My Beautiful Laundrette
    penelope cruz getting all hammy in Jamon Jamon
    the sexual tension between squeaky Jennifer Tilly and lippy Gina Gershon in Bound
    George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in the car trunk in Out of sight
    Matt Damon and Jude Law in the bath In The talented Mr Ripley
    Everything in Baise Moi
    peter sarsgaard snogging Liam Neeson in Kinsey

  4. Pretty good list… but what, no Pedro?! OK, so if we’re talking sexiest scenes/pairings as well as sex scenes I’d go (along with INTIMACY):

    Taylor/Newman - CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF
    Christie/Sutherland - DON’T LOOK NOW
    Banderas/Poncela - LAW OF DESIRE
    Abril/Bose - HIGH HEELS
    Sarandon “waking up” Spader - WHITE PALACE
    Day-Lewis/Pfeiffer - THE AGE OF INNOCENCE
    Keitel/Hunter - THE PIANO
    Anderson/Stoltz - THE HOUSE OF MIRTH
    Winslet/Eccleston - JUDE
    Fiennes/Scott Thomas - THE ENGLISH PATIENT
    Fiennes/Moore - THE END OF THE AFFAIR
    Rampling/Nolot - UNDER THE SAND
    Gyllenhaal/Spader - SECRETARY
    Ryan/Ruffalo - IN THE CUT
    Garcia Bernal/Verdu/Luna - Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN
    “The Star-spangled banner” scene - SHORTBUS


  5. I almost put Cat on a hot tin roof on the list but sisn;t as the sex was all Elizabeth and not Newman........also I didn't put Don't look now on the list as I thought you may think I was being contrived!
    On refelction I agree with High Heels and In the cut ( I always liked mr Ruffalo)

    These are the sort of geeky conversations I always have with my film critic friend Jonney from Sheffield....usually over a beer!

  6. Always willing to participate in geeky film conversations! Have a good week, John.