Patrice Laconte makes very good dramas about unlikely friends. Most recently, Man on the Train threw together an middle-aged criminal and a lonely, retired poetry teacher. In Intimate Strangers, a woman mistakes a tax accountant for a psychologist, and although they eventually sort it out, she continues to visit him as though he were her shrink.
Lonely Hearts Club
R for sexual dialogue
Perhaps the setup sounds implausible, but in a building where all the offices look the same, a nervous woman who stares at her feet might not notice a wrong turn. Besides, his office has a little couch (for naps) and magazines with “Analysis” in their names, and as he explains, “my tax clients often unload their worries on me. I thought she wanted a divorce.”
The characters are well developed and well acted, although we don’t get to know Anna (Sandrine Bonnaire) much outside of her relationship with William (Fabrice Luchini). We know what her marriage is like, and we know how it makes her feel, but we don’t know much about her past or her dreams for the future.
We know William’s story much better. He has lived in the same place all his life. He has an ex-wife whose new boyfriends are virile, youthful, and macho, unlike him. He’s still on good terms with his ex, but she’s condescending about his latest infatuation with Anna. He’s a lonely bachelor, the type to wear an apron for purely practical reasons, in spite of how it makes him look. He’s much better with numbers than with emotions, although it is wonderful to see him do a little unself-conscious dance when nobody’s looking, just to know he’s capable of it, because most of the time he’s buttoned-down, quiet, and practically invisible.
Laconte We Be Friends
Laconte brings thoughtful filmmaking to Intimate Strangers. At moments of intensity, he’ll use organic, handheld zooms to focus in on a character’s face. At the film’s key conflict, Laconte cuts between direct, head-on photography and 90-degree-angle, profile shots. He also speeds up the pace, and the cutting is a palpable, yet subtle, visual parallel to the emotion on screen.
But compared to Man on the Train, which was one of last year’s best movies, Intimate Strangers is a lightweight. Part of the problem is the male/female relationship, which seems more conventional and less interesting for a director like Laconte. In a situation like Intimate Strangers’, how do you skirt the issue of sex? And if you don’t, then maybe theirs is not such an unlikely friendship after all; maybe it’s just love and/or lust between two lonely people. And that’s something that it doesn’t take a Patrice Laconte to illustrate.