Sleep With Me

Patrice Chéreau's Intimacy may be the latest instance of the new sexual candor of the European art cinema, but there's a sly, nostalgic feel to the enterprise. The movie begins, like Last Tango in Paris, with a pair of strangers preparing to couple in some untenanted no-man's-land: "Was this agreed?" he asks, upon opening the door mid-afternoon to find her. "No," she admits. "Come in," he decides, and almost immediately the pair are scrambling out of their clothes on the floor of a grubby south London pad.

Here and for the rest of the movie, Intimacy references the Bertolucci Tango in so many ways that it comes to seem a low-rent analogue and satiric corrective. (A similar relationship exists between Antonioni's ridiculously fashionable Blow-Up and De Palma's purposefully degraded remake, Blow Out.) The principals in Intimacy are both middle-aged. Their sexual relations are hectic, raw, and reasonably naturalistic—this is a movie where a used condom rates a close-up. Things will be all the more graphic in the couple's four subsequent trysts, not to mention the guy's bathroom solo.

Intrepidly acted by Shakespearean thespian Mark Rylance and, especially, New Zealand's Kerry Fox, Intimacy tells the story of Jay and Claire and their anonymous sexual relationship. Naked and desperate, they make a wonderful team. She's round and ample, he's angular and gaunt. Dressed and inarticulate, they're altogether less attractive. (The movie follows this general pattern as well; the characters are not nearly as engaging outside of their affair.) She's glum and a bit dowdy, he's sour and grungy—a bartender in a trendy Soho watering hole. Like the Brando character in Last Tango, Jay has recently lost his wife—but that's because he walked out on her and their two kids.

Hectic, raw, and reasonably naturalistic: Fox and Rylance in Intimacy
photo: Empire
Hectic, raw, and reasonably naturalistic: Fox and Rylance in Intimacy

Details

Intimacy
Directed by Patrice Chreau
Written by Chreau and Anne-Louise Trividic, from the novel by Hanif Kureishi and his story "Nightlight"
Empire
Opens October 19

Waking Life
Written and directed by Richard Linklater
Fox Searchlight

Focus
Directed by Neal Slavin
Written by Kendrew Lascelles, from the novel by Arthur Miller
Paramount Classics
Opens October 19

Intimacy, which takes the title of Hanif Kureishi's 1999 novel and much of its premise from an earlier Kureishi story, "Nightlight," is Chéreau's first English-language film (as Last Tango was Bertolucci's), and one might consider the filmmaker nearly as bold as his stars. At last winter's Berlin Film Festival, where Intimacy won the Golden Bear and Fox was chosen best actress, the film was generally slagged by the London critics, some of whom questioned the representation of local behavioral patterns. (What really stung must have been the useless advice Jay gets from a pretentious gay French coworker.) But authentically British or not, Intimacy is squarely in the indigenous kitchen-sink style—a far cry from the absurdly chic, sentimental pseudo-worldliness of something like An Affair of Love.

The brusque expanses of flesh are meant to evoke Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud. The craft borders on the Dogmatic. The scenes are harshly lit, the camera often handheld. The soundtrack tends toward the noisy, with much shouting and incidental clamor. The editing is haphazard, the narrative sometimes obscure. We never learn how Claire and Jay met and arranged for their weekly, no-questions encounters. She seems to be the one who keeps showing up, although he's the first to begin wondering about the rest of his partner's life. Soon, he's hopping on and off public buses, shadowing her around London—a game of hide-and-seek that's no less choreographed than their sex scenes and leads Jay to a basement theater below a neighborhood pub where Claire is acting (badly) in a fringe production of The Glass Menagerie.

Like Last Tango, Intimacy is predicated on a triangle. But rather than having a recondite new-wave filmmaker in tow, Claire's hitched to a good-naturedly talkative cab driver named Andy (Timothy Spall, adding immeasurably to the local color). Jay finds Andy in the pub, strikes up an acquaintance, and jealously proceeds to torment the unwitting cuckold with outrageously double-edged banter. These effectively unpleasant scenes are unsuccessfully balanced against those allowing Claire to wax temperamental with her acting-class confidant (played, in cockney, by Marianne Faithfull for maximum decomposing glamour).

What sort of show has our Claire contrived? Which part is she really playing? Theater (Chéreau's original métier) supplants sex as the movie's ruling metaphor. By the time Claire has cracked up in her night-school acting class, Intimacy itself has grown increasingly desperate. Searching for closure, the movie lurches from one unconvincing emotional confrontation to the next. Proscenium pulverized, the ending is played out in the rubble. Still, compared to the madcap histrionics of other movie affairs, Intimacy is a model of restraint. People do come and go. That's life, isn't it?


Intimacy experiments in rampant physicality; Richard Linklater's innovative animated feature, Waking Life, is strictly mental. Returning to the mode of his first feature, Slacker, Linklater has designed Waking Life for as much talk as action. The narrative, such as it is, begins with a stranger (Wiley Wiggins) arriving in town and perambulating through a succession of deep-dish raps or homespun theories—aesthetic, neurological, and crazy by turns. Most concern dreams. The movie's not-so-ultimate suggestion: It's all in your head and la vida es sueño.

The verbiage of this annotated sleep walk, which includes an ironic discourse on André Bazin's ontology of the photographic image and myth of total cinema, fades in and out like a badly tuned radio, but there's no ignoring the movie's look. Waking Life was shot and edited as an ordinary motion picture, featuring a number of prior Linklater associates (among them Wiggins, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy) and then transformed, frame by frame, into computer graphics. Thanks to a program created by art director Bob Sabiston, the whole world—mainly Linklater's hometown, Austin—becomes an updated version of the rotoscoped actress who modeled for Disney's Snow White.

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