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Every Wednesday afternoon, Claire (Kerry Fox) knocks on Jay's (Mark Rylance) door. They exchange discordant gazes before throwing their clothes to the ground. Jay's grubby London flat is the setting for this fiery sex-play. Like animals, these figures claw their way toward each other from opposite sides of the room. Claire exits, leaving Jay in silent comfort; the primal ecstasy they seem to get from this physical love becomes the unspoken promise of her return. Not since Last Tango in Paris has a film so ravishingly explored the many fine connections between desire, physical intimacy, and romance. It doesn't matter where Claire came from or where she met Jay, because the genius of Patrice Chéreau's Intimacy is its unspokenness. A series of flashbacks reveal Jay growing apart from his wife, his now grimy apartment once alive with the laughter of his young boys. Because his wife refused to touch him, he cries during masturbation, but in the ghostly Claire, Jay seems to have found salvation. His mistake, though, is that he falls in love with her and seeks something more than just her touch. Following her home one day, Jay learns too much: where she lives, where she works, whom she is married to. “It's like we owe it to each other,” he says, seeking to shatter unspoken rules. She's an actress in a dingy production of Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie and her husband Andy (Timothy Spall) drinks and plays pool at the bar that hosts the play. Jay begins to manipulate Andy as if trying to break the couple up, but Chéreau is mindful of everyone's pain and mistakes, including Andy's. This makes Intimacy an unusually complex film. To the director, sex, like theater, becomes something akin to performance art. When Andy tells Claire that she'll never be an actress, it's his way of telling his wife that she has failed to keep her performance with Jay a secret. Rylance, in a remarkable performance, truly evokes the horrifying pain of bleeding for someone and getting nothing in return. Intimacy's truths are remarkably universal, so painful yet so sexy in Chéreau's hands.

Empire Pictures
119 min
Patrice Chéreau
Patrice Chéreau, Hanif Kureishi, Anne-Louise Trividic
Mark Rylance, Kerry Fox, Timothy Spall, Alastair Galbraith, Philippe Calvario, Marianne Faithfull, Susannah Harker, Fraser Ayres, Michael Fitzgerald, Robert Addie, Rebecca R. Palmer, Joe Prospero

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