Intimate Strangers

Aug 25, 2004 at 12:00 am

It is painfully obvious to those who have endured six-hour plane rides with loquacious aisle-mates or have been cornered at the local watering hole by the walking wounded, with their misty-eyed, slurring ramblings: It is much easier to tell your troubles to a stranger than to those who know you best.

Whether the tales and confessions that gush forth are true never seems as important as the very act of confession itself. We all seek to exorcise the story we call our life from its pitch-black holding cell and are rewarded with such sweet release when we plop it into the lap of someone we hardly know.

Whether you’re paying 150 bucks an hour for this privilege or just visiting it on the poor slob in your presence, it hardly matters. In confession there is deliverance.

This well-known phenomenon provides the backbone to the quiet and affecting mystery directed by Patrice Leconte (Man on the Train, Monsieur Hire). In Intimate Strangers, Anna (Sandrine Bonnaire) arrives at a Paris apartment-office building seeking a psychiatrist. Instead, the addled French beauty winds up in the office of a tax accountant.

She is welcomed by the buttoned-down, middle-aged William (Fabrice Luchini), who soon realizes her mistake but, captivated and nervously attentive, does nothing to stop her pained monologue on marital strife, emotional abuse and dreams of escape.

As the film humorously implies, there isn’t much of a difference between the accountant’s office and the psychiatrist’s down the hall. “What to declare, what to hide” are the chief concerns of both professions.

Anna doesn’t catch on until a few “sessions” later. Embarrassed and insulted, she nonetheless continues her visits. With each, she reveals more of herself, deepening Williams’s affection for her. Yet troubling inconsistencies and unclear motivations abound in her tale of a handicapped husband who insists she make love to other men. With each visit, the budding friendship/romance is darkened by what she reveals, or doesn’t.

Intimate Strangers, although original in storytelling and subtle in approach, does not answer all the questions it poses. By film’s end, the mystery remains, a bit off-putting for the investment we’ve made into the story of these two lonely people. Some will see these loose ends as poetry, others will feel ripped off.


In French with English subtitles. Showing at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, west of Telegraph). Call 248-263-2111.

Dan DeMaggio writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].