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"Intimate Strangers"

Directed by Patrice Leconte.
Written by Jérôme Tonnerre.
Starring Sandrine Bonnaire and Fabrice Luchini.
Release Year:  2004
Review Date:  8/15/04


I'm nearly at the point where I'm going to see any movie at any local theater that I haven't already seen, and "Intimate Strangers" fits the bill of a flick that I hadn't even heard of that I found myself (along with my buddy Yac) watching at the local indie house.

Directed by Patrice Leconte, who directed one of my faves from last year, "Man on the Train", "Intimate Strangers" is about a psychoanalyst (Fabrice Luchini) who is leaving work one day when an attractive woman (Sandrine Bonnaire) shows up at his doorstep insisting that she had an appointment and needs to be seen immediately.  The good doctor, not wanting to turn down new business, decides to listen to her troubles...only to find out that the woman is having marital problems and needs, well, some big favors in order to make things work out.  There's only one catch--the psychoanalyst really ISN'T a psychoanalyst...he's a tax lawyer.  He'll have to dig his way out of that one and figure out a way to help this woman before time runs out on her four-year marriage.

Production is kept to a minimum:  only about five actors have anything vital to say, most of the film takes place in the lawyer's Parisian office and the soundtrack is a bare-bones 8-piece string-and-winds engagement that does the job quite nicely.  The script has some fairly original touches (as original as dramas can be, I guess) based around where the woman's problems come from and how the occasionally bewildered lawyer works with the woman to solve her issues.  The acting by our two leads is top notch, and Leconte does a great job of pacing what could have turned into the most boring film of 2004, which is what "Intimate Strangers" looked like it was going to be in the first 20 minutes.  (The subtitles don't help.)  The film tries to parlay intimacy and eroticism by giving us only hints at what kinds of things the woman is missing in her relationship; a look here, or a personal recounting there...this would probably be more effective on stage, where you could get the more personal side of it when the actors are collected 20 feet away from you.  As it is, I thought that the "erotic suspense" touted on the film's praise board outside the theater was a little far-fetched.

For what it is, "Intimate Strangers" doesn't have enough to say to justify almost 120 minutes of screen time.  The ending, in particular, seemed to drag on for days and occasionally, some of Leconte's shots last a second or two too long; the pacing was fine, just that the editing could have used some work.  The comic relief provided by Hélène Surgère as the lawyer's secretary was good, but sometimes she felt like a ploy to always provide us with the uncomfortable "Hey, sorry I walked in on you again, but I need you to review this fax...whoa!" bits and we could have done with one or two less of those scenes.  Also, I thought a subplot featuring a former lover of the lawyer, played by Anne Brochet, could have been trimmed to almost nil by adding another resource for the lawyer to lean on when he starts to question his relationship with the new "patient."  At least there were no gratuitous ass shots of that guy!!

Yac said it best--"Intimate Strangers" is your perfect Matinee.  It's an average film, with some good things going for it...but, if I had never seen it, I would really not be missing much.  And, Frenchies don't make many great great films anyway, right?  Hey, if you are itching for an interesting drama with great acting and you just need something to fill up a couple of hours, "Intimate Strangers" is your boy.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09