Friday, October 23, 2009

Intimate Strangers (2004)

Fans of intricate, character driven dramas will enjoy this film by talented director Patrice Leconte. Fabrice Luchini is terrific as a tax attorney whose dully predictable life is turned upside-down by a new client: a beautiful woman (the always excellent Sandrine Bonnaire) who, instead of ledgers and receipts, brings him woeful tales of marital strife. She has mistaken him for a nearby psychiatrist, but before Luchini can correct her, he finds himself oddly intrigued by this woman, and more than a little smitten.

Their furtive sessions continue and, slowly and methodically, fascinating questions are raised as to who is actually being deceived and for what purpose. The mysterious story is spun like a spider web, with each bit of information adding to the strength and complexity of the entire construction and each new layer adding to the film’s credibility.

It is a credit to the acumen of Luchini and Bonnaire that the story remains squarely on track as, on paper, it seems a bit far-fetched, yet there is never a moment here that feels forced or manipulative. Leconte presents a number of interesting observations on the nature of therapy itself by having virtually every character in the film, at one time or another, offer help and advice, usually with results that are more amusing than beneficial. Bonnaire’s ham-fisted attempt to cure a claustrophobic man is a welcome bit of comic relief, and reinforces the idea that therapy should usually be left to the professionals.

Eventually, both Bonnaire and Luchini - patient and ersatz doctor - become intertwined on a course that will lead either to mutual healing or violent confrontation, and this reviewer was quite happy to follow the treatment to its satisfying outcome.

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