INTIMATE STRANGERS (Patrice Leconte, 2004)

Films by France’s prolific Patrice Leconte vary in quality; while I found Monsieur Hire (1989) “elegant though shallow, and frustratingly ambiguous and incomplete,” I like Confidences trop intimes just fine. It is all about people—grownups, mind you, not kids—coming out of somebody else’s shadow and into their own light.
     The protagonist is William Faber, who is still too much his father’s son in his late forties or early fifties. He is a tax attorney, as was his father who died some time ago, and his secretary, the formidable Mme Mulon (Hélène Surgère, wonderful), is his father’s secretary, suggesting a constraining mock-Oedipal continuity. One day Anna Delambre walks through his door, mistaking him for Dr. Monnier, the psychiatrist whose services she seeks. She is about fifteen years younger than him and married rather than divorced. William listens to Anna’s marital woes; her husband wants her to take a lover and describe their sex to him, a way of validating his jealousy and controlling his wife. But the “open ear” with which William listens is unexpectedly connected to his heart; fascinated, William maintains the pretense of being Monnier. When Anna in short order uncovers the truth, she confronts William, telling him she feels “raped”; but she returns almost immediately for more of their sessions! We learn that Anna may have an unresolved Electra-complex to match William’s unresolved Oedipal-complex when she leaves behind her lighter, the one thing of her deceased father’s she still has, which at one point, in a Freudian slip, she identifies as her father rather than as his once-possession.
     What does it mean that Anna comes back to William after feeling he has “raped” her? Perhaps one of two things: to apologize for her colorful overreaction (it is against her husband and perhaps her father’s memory, not Faber, that Anna needs to take a feminist stand); to consign their “professional” encounters, with their sexual undertow (Anna’s spouse comes to believe wrongly that William is his wife’s lover), to the realm of substitute consensual sex rather than “rape.” Probably both motives are in play, and a race to the romantic finish line has begun.
     Along the way, William seeks psychiatric advice from his one door-down neighbor, the real Dr. Monnier, brilliantly, wittily played by Michel Duchaussoy. (Thirty-five years earlier, Duchaussoy played the father who tracks down the hit-and-run driver who killed his young son in Claude Chabrol’s tremendous Que la bête meure.)
     Jérôme Tonnerre and Leconte have written a lovely and wise script, but Leconte is also capable of cracking us up with his visual expertise, such as when, suspicious of Anna’s visits into the inner sanctum of her boss’s office, on the occasion of one such visit, while seated at her desk, she exacts a glance over her right shoulder after the camera has hilariously panned in her direction while the “couple” moves into William’s office in the opposite direction.
     Sandrine Bonnaire, who so beautifully played the schemer in Monsieur Hire, is much more likeable here, but the film principally belongs to Fabrice Luchini, who a quarter-century earlier played Eric Rohmer’s Perceval le Gallois (1978). Luchini is a revelation as he charts the subtle blossoming of his character—one of the loveliest enactments of a guy falling in love, and falling in love with life, in cinema.


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