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[whitespace] 'Intimacy'
Tryst Busters: Mark Rylance and Kerry Fox reserve their Wednesday afternoons for pure sex in 'Intimacy.'

Love Like Anthrax

'Intimacy' is a wise, bitter story of a wordless tryst

By Richard von Busack

LIKE Last Tango in Paris, the new film Intimacy asks: Will an affair based on nothing but sex be more pure, more honest, than the complex, lying tangles so many marriages and affairs turn out to be? And the answer is that such fantasies of the perfect wordless tryst are hopeless, if repeated more than once. Eventually, everything we try to lock out of the bedroom will creep in.

Patrice Chéreau's film, based on short stories by Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette), shows us the sex lives of two anonymous lovers in adult-film detail. It's a scandalous strategy, but it does reveal what these people are hiding--and the strategy works, even if the film is never what you'd call erotic. Desperation rarely is erotic. The grappling meetings of these two desperate people may not be food for fantasy, but they are food for thought.

Mark Rylance plays Jay, an ex-musician. Seven years ago, for reasons he hasn't wished to examine, he walked out on his marriage and two children. We begin the film in his shitty South London flat. On the cluttered floor, he's conducting a wordless, furiously sexual affair with Claire (Kerry Fox), a woman whose name he doesn't know. She shows up on his doorstep every Wednesday at 2pm.

Curious, and beginning to need her, Jay follows her across town to spy on her other life. It seems that Claire is an actress, performing as Laura in The Glass Menagerie in a cramped theater carved out of a basement. At a pub, Jay accidentally meets Claire's fat, placid husband, Andy (Timothy Spall). Out of jealousy, Iago's own sadism or warped compassion, Jay befriends the husband, hinting at his wife's other life.

Chéreau tells of man-woman need in visual terms most often used for stories of junkies, from the trashed-out apartments to the cold, gray streets. The sexual explicitness should make the film notorious. Yet this is really the least important part of Intimacy.

Fox gives Rylance a little head on screen, but to me this seems well within the demands of acting--a real actor ought to give everything, right? I can see the scene's purpose. We know more about these guarded characters by seeing how urgently they devour each other. We can read the relief in Claire's post-orgasm snooze, the curves of her thick blue-white body looking like a Henry Moore sculpture.

But in the sex scenes, we see more of his ass than her face: Is that a tactic to keep the woman a mystery? Intimacy is more of a man's film, I think. Not just because we take the story mostly from the point of view of Jay, but also because of the appeal of anonymous sex to men. And as in stories of algebraic need, Intimacy is hard and wise about the ruthless things we do to each other out of our longings.

Intimacy is too stunningly good to be good all the way to the end. Chéreau's sense of rhythm goes wrong in the last half hour--it's one tirade after another and no breathing room. We don't see enough of Claire's performance in The Glass Menagerie to tell whether she's a good actor or not, but it's easy to see that her chances aren't as good as they were. It's implied that this is what she has in common with Jay, who has his own dashed hopes as a musician.

Claire's frustrations come out when she's teaching an acting class. Raw and angry over her affair, she lashes out at her students, spilling it all in a furious tirade to Betty (Marianne Faithful), a sweetly obtuse member of the group. It's a breathtaking moment.

Unfortunately, this great scene is only the beginning of some long freestyle shouting matches: first Andy shouts at Claire, then Jay shouts at Claire, then Andy confronts Jay, in a scene of crying-clown pathos. And the whole thing is finished off with a moment of "closure." Ah, closure: that stupid thing added to movies to make them consoling; closure: that thing we never seem to get in real life.

Except for the closure, Intimacy is a painful film, but never a false one. How does a movie like this exist on the same planet with Serendipity? I realize this isn't a hit; the near hard-core unromanticized sex won't make it popular, nor will the blunt talk, the casual cruelty. It's only for people who can't be soothed by the usual comforting lies.

Intimacy (Unrated; 119 min.), directed by Patrice Chéreau, Hanif Kureishi and Anne-Louise Trividic, photographed by Eric Gautier and starring Mark Rylance and Kerry Fox, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the November 15-21, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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