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    Intimate Strangers

    Confidence man

    Talk therapy with an underhanded twist is the setting for Patrice Leconte's "Confidences trop intimes" ("Intimate Strangers").


    Fans of director Patrice Leconte must love characters who talk, which is fortunate since that's almost all they do in "Intimate Strangers." But how they talk and what they talk about is always a focal point of Leconte's style and the lure, no doubt, for some of France's top talent.

    Original title: Confidences trop intimes.
    Directed by: Patrice Leconte.
    Written by: Jrme Tonnerre.
    Cast: Sandrine Bonnaire, Fabrice Luchini, Michel Duchaussoy, Anne Brochet, Gilbert Melki, Laurent Gamelon, Hlne Surgre, Urbain Cancelier, Isabelle Petit-Jacques, Vronique Kapoyan, Benot Ptr, Albert Simono, Alberto Simono, Claude Derepp, Aurore Auteuil, Ludovic Berthillot, Sabrina Brezzo.
    Cinematography: Eduardo Serra.
    Edited by: Jolle Hache.
    In French with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    There's "Monsieur Hire" (Michel LeBlanc, Sandrine Bonnaire), whose eponymous leading character barely speaks at all, and "Ridicule" (Jean Rochefort, Fanny Ardant), where witty repartee counts for everything at the court of Versailles. And more recently, "The Widow of St. Pierre" (Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche), "The Girl on the Bridge" (Daniel Auteuil, Vanessa Paradis) and "The Man on the Train" (Jean Rochefort, Johnny Hallyday) each deal with characters whose desire for change is so palpable that it's almost another character in the film.

    Intimate Strangers  
    With "Intimate Strangers," the director incorporates both these elements — talk and the desire to change one's life — in a therapist's office, which would seem to be their most logical setting. But things are rarely what they seem in a Leconte film.

    The drab setting — an innocuous old building with a soap-opera-watching concierge (Leconte's fake soap-opera dialogue is hysterical!) — contains dark hallways filled with multiple dark offices, many of which are also the occupant's place of residence. The film follows its equally drab heroine Anna (Sandrine Bonnaire) down one murky hallway on her first visit to see Dr. Monnier, a psychoanalyst she has picked out of the yellow pages. As played by Fabrice Luchini ("Coute de la Vie"), he appears to be a small, carefully dressed mouse of a man — "appears" being the operative word.

    Anna's dyslexia has brought her to the wrong office — that of William, an anally retentive accountant — either by mistake or by cosmic karma. For in the ensuing 105 minutes, Leconte marries his love of talk to his belief in change, via two of his quirkiest characters yet.

    Although William doesn't 'fess up for several "sessions," Anna quickly realizes her mistake but continues to see William the accountant to pour out the story of her dysfunctional marriage. This in turn sends William down the hall to the real Dr. Monnier (Michel Duchaussoy), who bears a striking resemblance to the late John Huston.

      Intimate Strangers
    This therapeutic rondelay exposes both the harmful as well as the helpful aspects of so called "talk therapy," which — thanks to diminished insurance coverage — is giving way to "drug" therapy these days. But the real Dr. Monnier is a canny old coot. His simplest comment is actually his most important piece of advice. "No one listens anymore," he tells William, and then charges him the full patient's fee, fully cognizant of his own collusion in a potentially serious situation, for early on, Anna has revealed her fear that she will go mad.

    "Listener" then becomes the aural substitute for "voyeur," although William also gazes out his window quite a bit. But for a time, William seems like a listening cousin of Leconte's voyeur in "Monsieur Hire." Indeed, "Intimate Strangers" plays like a mystery at first. Leconte's plan seems to be to keep us enthralled as we wait for potential tragedy. Instead, he comes up with an adorable "Risky Business"-like private moment of William's, in which he lets loose with a bit of joyously impromptu choreography to Wilson Pickett's "In the Midnight Hour." "Ah," laughs the director, "I'm harder to firgure out that that!"

    In Luchini and Bonnaire he has found an odd but endearing couple who really make us care what happens to them. That William is as obsessive as Anna is depressed, prescribes the arc of the journey each will take — whether by choice or by chance. "I'm listening," says William, the faux therapist, and damned if he doesn't sound like the genuine article. "Intimate Strangers" is another genuine article from the eclectic Leconte.

    JULY 31, 2004

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