Criticized for its "pornographic" eroticism, Intimacy is actually a film that undresses the ugly truths of everyday life like no other. It’s real, raw and explicit about the restless desire always to want more.
Director Patrice Chereau, has captured an honest portrayal of sex in the 21st century, not some glazed over porn fantasy or rosy romance. The film is groundbreaking in its graphic and intimate portrayal of sex. The camera is up close and personal with the bodies of the main characters, Jay (Mark Rylance) and Claire (Kerry Fox), visually depicting sex in its most primitive, natural, instinctive form, rather than the standard choreographed Hollywood images.
Intimacy centers on the ordinary lives of Claire and Jay. Jay has fled a wife and two children. Claire is trapped in her marriage. She dabbles in amateur dramatics as an escape, finding only temporary release. But on Wednesdays she attempts a different role when she turns up on Jay’s doorstep. She has no lines – she enters without a word, descends into a dark, grim basement,.hesitates for a moment. Then the couple embrace in a frenzied passion before fumbling to the floor, removing each other’s clothes to make desperate love. She dresses and leaves.
The film is based on the novel of the same name by Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette) and three of the author’s short stories: Nightlight, Strangers When We Meet and Love In A Blue Time. He wrote: “Words come out bent, but who can bend a kiss.” The film resonates with the question: Are actions stronger than words? It examines the role of sex in an age where casual encounters have become the norm.
Claire and Jay are striving for something, but neither know what it is. They escape the search for this frustratingly elusive goal through the drug of sex. In the frenetic coupling, the pair achieve their desired hit by melding into each other and into oblivion. But like all addictions, there is no pleasure without pain. After a series of Wednesday episodes, Jay begins to feel a prisoner in his own home, held hostage waiting for “this woman,” as he does not even know her name. He finally decides to enter her world by following her beyond his front door and out into the anonymous streets of London.
The cinematography is shaky, blurred – a reflection of the chaos inside Jay’s mind, especially as it recreates scenes from the night before he closes the door on his family for the last time. Yet, as it echoes Jay’s inner turmoil, it also reverberates with the chaos of the outside world. A shadow behind Claire as she evaporates into the crowds in a congested marketplace, Jay rushes behind, just another face in the crowd, but step-by-step a heartbeat closer to unmasking the real Claire.
The irony of the title reflects the human condition of longing to belong against the stark realities of existential isolation. It forces a double-edged meaning on the word "intimacy." The characters may share the most intimate of human acts, but knowing nothing of each other, are they really intimate? Or do they become so only when Jay takes this bold step into her everyday existence?
Paradoxically, the most intimate moment in the film is a solo performance: Jay in bathroom of his family home, masturbating while sniffing his wife’s panties. How intimate can you get – such a private moment exploited, blown up in magnified detail on the wide screen to be shared with a large, public audience? At the same time, it is not so surprising that portrayals of rather commonplace human acts cause such a stir, since these images are still radical in mainstream film. Life is normally sugar coated for the big screen Intimacy‘s sexual imagery shines in a natural light, without the distortion of special effects, choreographed scenes, or perfect bodies – and its graphic realism therefore becomes all the more threatening to audiences accustomed to the idealized rather than the real.
Intimacy is gentle and humane, a film about vulnerability, fragility, susceptibility.
– Rachel DeThample