Intimate Strangers

The opening shot of high-heels clattering across a courtyard and the worrying, Bernard Herrmann-esque score that threads through writer-director Patrice Laconte's film might lead you to expect something on the order of a Hitchcockian psycho-thriller. But Laconte has something more subtle in mind: an off-beat, psychological romance. The high-heels belong...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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The opening shot of high-heels clattering across a courtyard and the worrying, Bernard Herrmann-esque score that threads through writer-director Patrice Laconte's film might lead you to expect something on the order of a Hitchcockian psycho-thriller. But Laconte has something more subtle in mind: an off-beat, psychological romance. The high-heels belong to Anna (Sandrine Bonnaire), a pretty, thirty-ish Parisian on her way to her very first appointment with a psychiatrist. She arrives at an apartment building, asks a neighbor for directions to Dr. Monnier's office, enters an unmarked door and proceeds to spill her guts to the unassuming man behind the desk. She's trapped in an unhappy marriage to an ailing, unemployed husband. They haven't had sex in six months. He wants her to have sex with another man so he can watch... the sort of sadly intimate revelations mental health professionals hear regularly. But what Anna doesn't realize is that she's stepped into the wrong office: William Faber (Fabrice Luchini) isn't an analyst at all, but rather a lonely, milquetoast tax lawyer. His clients don't suffer from psychosexual hang-ups — they're confused about loopholes and that couch is for napping purposes only. The office of Dr. Monnier (Michel Duchauassoy), it turns out, is at the opposite end of the hall. Flummoxed by the mistake and embarrassed by Anna's private disclosures, William doesn't correct the misunderstanding. He even allows Anna to make a second appointment. William's ex, Jeanne (Anne Brochet), tells him that he really must come clean, but during his second session with Anna he can't quite bring himself to utter the truth. By their third, however, Anna has figured exactly what's going on: She called Dr. Monnier's office to reschedule, and found she'd been seeing the wrong "doctor." But though Anna compares this violation to a rape, she's nevertheless grateful to have found such an eager listener and makes yet another appointment. William, meanwhile, can no longer deny his growing attraction to this compelling woman. The feeling that this unusual pas de deux will turn into a thriller deepens with every scene. William has reason to believe that Anna is lying, but why? What reason could she have for returning to his office after having been deceived so cruelly? And what's with Anna's scary husband (Gilbert Melki)? But having been lead into a state of suspended disbelief with the promise of some creepy thrills, we eventually discover that these people are up to little more than falling in love. All the menacing atmosphere is simply decorative, and it's disappointing that Laconte never properly addresses the intriguing sexual undertones (like voyeurism, exhibitionism and sexual obsession) he uses to darken the film's palette.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: R
  • Review: The opening shot of high-heels clattering across a courtyard and the worrying, Bernard Herrmann-esque score that threads through writer-director Patrice Laconte's film might lead you to expect something on the order of a Hitchcockian psycho-thriller. But L… (more)

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