Intimate Strangers Patrice Leconte

As in recent big star, larger budget French films like Swimming Pool and Nathalie, Patrice Leconte's Intimate Strangers is at heart a modern French tale of female psychological sexual manipulation where the only events that actually happen are reduced to a viewer's construction of verbal suggestions.

Following the mysterious Anna (Sandrine Bonnaire) as she mistakes average taxman William (Fabrice Luchini) and his posh office for her new psychiatrist, Leconte plays out Anna's immediate confession of her marital fallout to William's unsure but patient ear until, after conferring with Anna's intended psychiatrist, William discloses his secret. Though angry, Anna decides she needs the relationship they've developed and continues the engagements, albeit with a new power dynamic established.

As stories of her failed relationship ambiguously evolve, William confronts his own lonely Parisienne lifestyle, privately longing for a physical relationship with the younger woman, but when Anna's husband visits, threatening William because of his real existence and the fictionalised story Anna has presented him of William as her secret lover, both doctor and patient must acknowledge each other's insecurities and disband the intimate relationship to facilitate personal progress.

Mining a similar mood as his recent The Man on the Train (2002), Leconte relies on the suspended chemistry between the two subtle duelling leads, played magnificently by Bonnaire and Luchini, and the strong art direction and production design that hints at William's lonely lifestyle of details trapped within his dead parents' office/flat.

Leconte's deft personal camera operation keeps the film moving with an intrinsic curiosity, magnifying the focus on wardrobe, light and the ambiguity of his characters, revealing much of Anna's feelings through her attire. While an affectingly intimate and fluid observation of two insecure, alienated urbanites in modern Paris, the film ultimately suffers by relying too heavily on its otherwise solid score to sustain a rather small-scale drama.

And when nothing really happens in the movie, a forced ending — as with The Man on the Train — is all too near, rightfully keeping the film and character's ambiguity in tact, but inherently denying any sense of comprehensible change or growth by leaving the viewer a stranger. (TVA)