Intimate Strangers (2004) / Drama
aka Confidences Trop Intimes

MPAA Rated: R for language and sexual dialogue
Running Time: 104 min.

Cast: Fabrice Luchini, Sandrine Bonnaire, Anne Brochet, Helene Surgere, Michel Duchaussoy, Gilbert Melki, Laurent Gamelon
Director: Patrice Leconte
Screenplay: Jerome Tonnerre
Review published March 26, 2005

Filmmaker Patrice Leconte (The Girl on the Bridge, Ridicule), who has virtually made a career out of exploring odd hidden desires, does so again in Intimate Strangers, which deals with the pleasure of therapy, both for the person receiving it as well as the person giving it.  One of the fascinating things about it is there is no sex involved, although what transpires between the two people in the private room can be considered far more intimate, where the patient describes his or her innermost thoughts -- thoughts never to be revealed to anyone else.  The doctor will listen to these "secrets" but will always maintain professional composure, seeing the mental health of the patient as the ultimate goal.  There should always be objectivity.  But how can objectivity be obtained by someone untrained to be impartial?

Such is the case for tax analyst, William (Luchini, On Guard), who receives a strange but attractive woman, Anna (Bonnaire, East/West),  in his office one evening.  He presumes she is there for tax advice, but she seems far more interested in telling him about her husband's lack of sexual interest in her, which for the sexually repressed William, is not something he is accustomed to hearing about, either in his office or pretty much anywhere else.  William realizes she inadvertently meant to see the psychiatrist down the hall, and must called on his office by mistake, but he is so attracted to Anna, and enjoys hearing her thoughts, he goes with it.  Eventually, prudence gets the best of him, and he does try to reveal his true nature and tell her his secret, but she has grown to like him as a listener, while he begins to develop feelings for her, and the therapy for both parties continues.

Although it is a drama, Leconte films Intimate Strangers as a Hitchcockian thriller, with elements of Rear Window thrown in.  Indeed, there is a voyeuristic quality for William in hearing about Anna's sex life with her husband, and while it makes him uncomfortable, he can't stop himself from wanting to hear more.  The score by Leconte favorite Pascal Esteve and the darker cinematography by Eduardo Serra (Unbreakable, What Dreams May Come) both exemplify a psychological thriller, leading to a feeling that William and Anna are playing a dangerous game.  Danger manifests itself in the form of Anna's not-too-pleased husband, Marc (Melki, Monsieur Ibrahim), who doesn't mind Anna taking a sex partner, but finds her sharing of their intimate lives to be deeply upsetting.

Unlike Leconte's previous film, The Man on the Train, Intimate Strangers goes for a more subtle resolution, never playing anything with a heavy hand.  This may disappoint those people who expect a big payoff for all of the thriller build-up, who may probably presume the film as lacking great substance.  The substance is all there, although it is cleverly beneath the surface, and for those viewers dreading the film going down the predictable road of a Hollywood thriller climax, it provides a welcome departure. 

Intimate Strangers is a teaser of a film, very much akin to listening to another person's private thoughts.  The voyeuristic aspect entices us, even if we never get to see any of the events personally.

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo