INTIMACY directed by Patrice Chéreau (UK, 2001)
The makers of Intimacy, based on a short story by Hanif Kureishi, adopt a less glossy and therefore more adult perspective.
In the movie, scenes of coupling are explicit, including un-simulated fellatio. Little is left to the imagination but, equally, nothing is particularly arousing.
On the contrary, the sex act is reduced to the level of a basic human need (like eating and sleeping but more energetic).
This is fucking not lovemaking and seems more akin to an act of penance than passion. Once the desire is satiated, words are unnecessary and the two go their separate ways arranging only to meet again the same day (Wednesday) the next week.
On the face of it, anonymous sex with no emotional investment is a more attractive proposition to men than women. This is why the first thought in the movie is that the woman, Claire (Kerry Fox), must be a prostitute. Why else would she consent to a weekly dose of rough sex with a divorcée in a squalid room?It turns out that she is married with a young son although we are left in the dark over how these regular liaisons first came about.
Things get complicated when the man, Jay (Mark Rylance), wants to find out more about her and this is where the movie starts to go seriously off track.
The scenes where Jay baits Claire’s husband (Timothy Spall) are ugly, uncomfortable and, above all, implausible. There’s also a unintentionally hilarious conversation in which Jay asks Claire’s pre-pubescent son how his relationship with his girlfriend is going.
The performances just about hold the film together, bringing more intensity and dignity to proceedings than the script deserves.
Rylance, in particular, is superb. His brilliance will be known to those who saw him as Cromwell in the BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall. He is not so often seen on-screen. As director of Shakespeare’s Globe in London, theatre’s gain is cinema’s loss. This movie suggests that, had he made more movies, he might even have exceeded the achievements of Daniel Day-Lewis.
Intimacy is not a success but it cannot fail to raise issues about how sex is represented in popular culture. In Roger Ebert’s thoughtful analysis of the movie, he quotes Kristina Nordstrom, who runs the Women’s Filmmakers Symposium of Los Angeles. She maintains that in the real world a woman would reject this kind of sex because there is no foreplay. Nordstorm says “A woman would be turned off by a man who doesn’t spend time being tender and sweet”.
I think such statements have to be taken with a pinch of salt, especially in the post ‘Mr Grey will see you now’ era. The politically correct notion that women’s sexual fantasies and needs are purer than those of men does not always ring true.
I’ve always found that music offers more illumination on these questions. In The Stooges’ ‘Cock In My Pocket’, for instance, Iggy Pop puts it in the bluntest of terms “I just wanna fuck, don’t want no romance”. P.J. Harvey makes the woman’s case just as candidly; “Lick my legs, I’m on fire / Lick my legs of desire” she declares on Rid Of Me. This is not the plea of a woman in need of gentle romancing!
When the gloves are off, anything goes, and when it comes to female fantasies my hunch is is that the desire for what, in Master Song, Leonard Cohen called “an ape with angel glands” is not so wide of the mark. As Tina Turner famously asked: ‘What’s love got to do with it?’