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Intimate Strangers
Reviewed by Dennis Morton
Broadcast 8/24/04 and 8/25/04

If you’ve seen "Friday Night", directed by the great Claire Denis, you might imagine that another French film called "Intimate Strangers" would be treading in the same waters. In Claire Denis’s film, a woman is about to make a big change in her life. All her belongings are packed and she’s ready to move in with her boyfriend. It’s Friday evening. She’s on her way to a friend’s house for supper, her last night out as a single woman, when she becomes ensnared in heavy traffic caused by a transit strike. In a burst of communitarian problem solving, motorists are offering rides to the stranded. The central figure in "Friday Night" offers a ride to a man, a stranger, who’s walking in the direction she is slowly driving. I won’t tell you more about that film, except to say that it’s worth seeing, and that it’s very different from "Intimate Strangers." "Intimate Strangers" is the story of another kind of intimacy, and it too, is well worth seeing.

Director Patrice Leconte likes to explore the attraction of opposites. In his previous film, "Man On The Train", he paired an aging, loquacious teacher with a taciturn bank robber, two men hardly cut from the same cloth. But in "Intimate Strangers" his protagonists are barely made of the same material.

William is a tax lawyer. He lives where he was born, a 6th floor apartment in Paris. He doesn’t just live there. He works there too. The outer rooms serve as his office and his clients come to him. So he works, eats and sleeps in an isolated nest, high above and far removed from the clutter and clamor of the world. William has inherited the apartment, the business, and even a secretary, from his father. Continuity could be his middle name. William is a buttoned down man.

Anna, on the other hand, never knew her father, who died in an automobile accident when she was born. She grew up on the road, in a trailer, with her peripatetic mother, following the sun. Stability is not in her history. She even works in a luggage shop. She’s been married for four years, the last year of which has been troubled. She needs professional help.
And that’s what she thinks she’s getting when she walks into William’s office at six o’clock one week day evening. Anna, who is dyslexic, has mistaken William’s office with that of a psychiatrist at the other end of the hall. And before a quietly astounded William can correct her, Anna has begun to unload her psychic burdens, most notably, details of her wounded marriage.

When she returns a week later, William tries to tell her a mistake has been made, but a combination of diffidence, curiosity and attraction conspire against his intention. Anna continues to unburden herself. And even though it’s only her second visit, we notice a bit of perkiness in her demeanor. And she’s a tad less dowdy than on her first visit.

I will reveal no more of the story. "Intimate Strangers" is a bit of a mystery, a psychological mystery. With impeccable pacing, Leconte, who co-wrote the script, teases us through almost the entire film with little more than words. In that respect, "Intimate Strangers" is reminiscent of the recently released "Before Sunset", also shot in Paris. Both of these films featured fine writing and terrific performances.

If you’re looking for car chases and mayhem, "Intimate Strangers" will leave you wanting. But if you want an intelligent, grown up movie, don’t miss this one.
For KUSP’s Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.