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Confidences trop intimes (Intimate Strangers)

(2004) ** 1/2 R
102 min. Paramount Classics. Director: Patrice Leconte. Cast: Fabrice Luchini, Sandrine Bonnaire, Michel Duchaussoy, Anne Brochet, Gilbert Melki.

Director Patrice Leconte specializes in unconventional stories of love: obsessive, romantic or platonic, mutually revelatory. After thirty years of films like Monsieur Hire, The Hairdresser's Husband, The Girl on the Bridge, and The Man on the Train, Leconte has declared Intimate Strangers to be, in all likelihood, his last love story. Whether or not that proves to be true, Intimate Strangers cuts a curious path through Hitchcockian voyeurism, comedy of manners, and film noir to arrive at another offbeat romance.

Working from a screenplay by Jérôme Tonnerre, Leconte puts two veteran actors through his odd paces. Fabrice Luchini (Full Moon in Paris) plays a button-down tax lawyer named William; living and working in the life-long setting of his father's office-apartment, William upholds the family business while he collects wind-up toys and ex-girlfriends. One day, a sultry woman named Anna (Sandrine Bonnaire of Monsieur Hire) walks into William's office—instead of the psychiatrist's office down the hall—and begins pouring her heart out about her plans to divorce her husband. Even after sorting out the mistaken predications, William and Anna continue to meet for intimate, claustrophobic sessions which seem only to grow more mysterious in detail and consequence.

Of course, all of this serves as a metaphor for relationships, with each playing armchair psychiatrist to the other. Though the aim of therapy may be eventually to cut the cord, these two seem to dread the ultimate loosening of their knot. Leconte archetypes the sexes: men as guarded, off-balance lost boys and women as shrewd, mysterious dream-weavers. The types also drive Leconte's genre jokery: even before Leconte puts faux noir on William's TV or references soap opera, we recognize the shadowy, teasing Intimate Strangers to be spoofing those lurid genres and lacing them with Rear Window voyeurism.

Leconte manages some mild amusements (like Luchini's lone dance to Wilson Pickett's "In the Midnight Hour") and moderate intrigue, but long stretches of the film are dramatically inert, and too few of the plot's teases develop into more than padding for the thin premise. Nevertheless, the light behind the eyes of the two stars goes a long way to illuminating Intimate Strangers, and when Anna's husband tells William, "Love's an incurable sickness," one might hear Leconte's confession that he's not through yet.

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