Not aiming for the spiritual poetry of In the Realm of the Senses or the philosophical transgressions of Crash, Chereau keeps his sexual odyssey firmly grounded in terms of straightforward character development. That may be the very reason why Intimacy seems unerringly impressive but never particularly significant on more than a tactile, sensory level. The themes of human isolation are barren and obvious, a science project devoid of any especially groundbreaking hypothesis. Intimacy does manage to stand out from lesser portraits of "human interconnectedness" and Pinter-esque rummages through psychological dirty drawers (okay, kill me). Shallow though it might sound, it's amazing how much is filled in through an inspired cast, perceptive camerawork, and imaginative ways of treating the love scene. Those ingredients are too assured and confident to merely dismiss as icing on the cake, especially since they are the substance of the cake itself.
Adapted from a pair of short stories by British novelist Hanif Kureishi, Intimacy weaves desperate lovemaking between two strangers in London. Every Wednesday, Jay (Rylance) and Claire (Fox) meet in his cluttered, dank apartment for an hour or two of sexual release from their uninspired lives. He's been head bartender at a posh restaurant for over six years. She's a mystery to him but her glum workaday appearance reveals a similar dissatisfaction. They're both married, but his relationship has curdled into an embittered separation. As the weeks draw on, Jay obsessively takes it upon himself to uncover Claire's personal routines. In his attempt to gain a fuller semblance of who she is, he opens wounds that hadn't existed before by single-handedly corrupting the fantasy. If it weren't for a few unnecessary subplots involving Jay's brother and his bevy of disgruntled co-workers, this minimalist premise might be described as a modern fable on the perils of wish fulfillment.
Chareau's restless camera (once again wielded by superb and ever-attentive cinematographer Eric Gautier) is less appropriate here than in his family transit-oriented Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train. The scenes that linger are the still ones where Rylance and Fox separately, pensively attempt to carry on with their makeshift household routines. These are often captured in lingering, unblinking wide shots that view them stranded amidst their drab workplaces and homes. Separation proves haunting in a melancholy series of intercut shots as Rylance and Fox undress on opposite sides of the room, crawling across the floor to meet in the center. Despite being as restless as a fly during the hyperactive restaurant scenes (all the better to blend in with a hustling crowd of gabby trendsetters), you'd be hard pressed to find a single uninteresting image. Intimacy takes an interest in its sordid world of the lower-middle class, with lonely pubs and busy shopping streets -- it also understands the people who inhabit those spaces, viewing them with sympathy scraped raw.
An evaluation would be incomplete without highlighting the great Timothy Spall (the robust scene-stealer of many a Mike Leigh collaboration). As Claire's cuckolded husband, this jocular heavyweight plays out his handful of bitter pill scenes with the unforced menace and self-effacing embarrassment of his imposing bulk. Bangs in his eyes, his mouth forming into quizzical pouts and dry smirks, he may seem the fool in his barroom encounters opposite a sarcastic, gleaming Mark Rylance (whose Jay has arrived on the scene looking to stir up some trouble), but Spall is no one to trifle with. His overreaching Best Pal demeanor suggests a mind abuzz with secret passageways of guile, his pointed questions only naïve if you choose not to read into their crafty insinuations. In his unassuming way, Spall's carefully etched interpretation of hostility buried under a mountain of surface propriety may become one of the most criminally underappreciated performances of the year, but maybe also one of the best. He's that good.
Fox and hound.
Run time: 119 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 28th March 2001
Distributed by: Empire Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 65%
Fresh: 45 Rotten: 24
IMDB: 6.3 / 10
Director: Patrice Chereau