DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of Intimacy, Gabrielle


Title: Intimacy

Release Date:  2001

Nationality and Language: UK/France, English (not dubbed; I presume the film is available in French also)

Running time: 119 Minutes

MPAA Rating:  NC-17 (unofficial; not submitted)

Distributor and Production Company: Empire Pictures; Studio-Canal (France)

Director; Writer:Patrice Chereau (story by Hanif Kureishi)


Cast:   Mark Rylance, Kerry Fox

Technical: Panavision, digital

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:  adult content

Review: The opening shot, before the opening credits, shows just moderately hairy male leg (I’ve seen better), on sheets, only gradually merging into the first of many intimate scenes between “a man and a woman,” previous strangers who meet Wednesday afternoons for intimacy in a London flat as if their appointments were for piano lessons.  The lives otherwise are vicarious, looking for the companionship of younger people (actors, barbacks, etc.) in pubs, or of helping younger actors in Tennesse Williams plays (which are presented like the “play within a play” of Hamlet). What is interesting, though, is that these are middle-aged people, already getting ready for life’s early autumn, with bodies that will no longer fulfill fantasies, but that will perform. This seems to fit well with the exploration of mature heterosexuality, as Masters and Johnson perceive it.


This film does show everything in the intimate scenes (I won’t enumerate here), and it again seems to make the case for an adult rating that doesn’t get the stigma of an NC-17. Curiously, it struck me as more of a film from the 60s or early 70s (the  I’m OK generation, and the generation that tried to make a disconnected intellectual paradigm out of “intimacy”) than of the new millennium. 


Technically, the film is elaborate, in wide screen, with the detailed scenes of seedy London streets compelling (since I was there myself recently).


Gabrielle (2005, IFC/Wellspring/Mars/Azor/Studio Canal, dir. Patrice Chereau, novel “The Return” by Joseph Conrad, NR but would suggest R --- or NC-17 due to one explicit shot, 90 min, France/Italy/Germany, in French) is an ambitious and technically artsy looking French film, Cinemascope with gaudy sets of the rich, in a small platform release in the US, based on a simple story. Jean Hervey (Pascal Greggory) is a middle aged count (it seems to be early 20th Century, but it doesn’t matter) who has taken his wife Gabrielle (Isabelle Huppert) as his raison d’etre (he says in narration that his possession of her is his whole life), but he is sexually impotent (like Prufrock in T.S. Elliot’s famous poem, maybe) and they sleep in twin beds, 50s style. One day he finds a handwritten letter (low tech, decades before the emails of “Days of our Lives”) that she has run off with another man. But she returns for a confrontation. Eventually, she will undress almost completely to try to arouse him. The almost thorough visual of her, lying in bed, is middle aged, skinny, not robust, but natural. It's quite striking and expressive. He stays buttoned up, unable even to undress. He will never return after that. I tell the ending, because it is essential to the message of the film. There are curious lines in the script (subtitled, often with big print) about body image, as when Jean talks about the veins on his hands not showing, and Gabrielle talking about her lover's fattish, baby-like (and by conventional ideas rather unmasculine and maybe even repuslive) body. "We undressed separately," she says. There couldn't have been that much too it.


But it is the filmmaking for its own sake that matters here. There are lots of extras, servants and socialites and the like, gaudy dinner scenes, that seem superfluous. They are well tended to. And in the early party, the film uses black and white for the narrative scenes. The black and white Cinemascope lacks the detail to make it effective (say compare the effect to “Hud”) and as a storytelling technique it seems unnecessary here. I have thought about using BW for flashbacks in my own scripts (or even in split screen, where the narrator relating the flashback is in color). The shifts to color occur at critical moments, as when he finds the letter, or in their first confrontation where he is almost strangled. The music score by Fabio Vacchi is expressionistic, mixing chamber ensemble and orchestra, and invoking memories of the atonal but yet postromantic, post-Mahler music of Alban Berg (especially the Three Pieces for Orchestra, the Lyric Suite, and Wozzeck; I would have considered scoring the climatic “sex” scene to the Invention on one Note, B). Actually, the mood set by the music often reminds one of the first movement of the Mahler Ninth. There is one performance by the extras of an art song at piano with voice; I believe the song is by Hugo Wolf, but it did not show in the closing credits.    


I wish American audiences would go more to film experiments like this, so they would get more distribution. Someone put a lot of work into this film.

Related reviews: L.I.E.


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