TALKING DIRTY : Nathalie and Confidences Trop Intimes
by guest reviewer Sheila Seacroft
France 2003 : Anne FONTAINE : 105 mins
CONFIDENCES TROP INTIMES
aka Intimate Strangers : France 2004 : Patrice LECONTE : 104 mins
In Nathalie, the glacially beautiful Catherine (Fanny Ardant) and Bernard (Grard Depardieu, still somehow sexy after all these years and with all those extra pounds) are a very successful middle-aged haut-bourgeois couple who seem to have the perfect marriage. Weve met their like before, in the films of Claude Chabrol. When she inadvertently discovers that he has been unfaithful (the perils of voicemail!), the faade unravels before our eyes. Confronted with the truth, he seems unwilling to see his behaviour as a problem he still loves her; he merely takes his sexual pleasures elsewhere.
If this were a Chabrol film, Catherine would doubtless plot an intricate murder with the rather unattractive friend who clearly fancies heras it is, she stumbles, on a whim, into a sex club, where she meets Marlene (Emanuelle Bart), and enlists her to pick up and start a relationship with Bernard. Motive? Who knows. Part revenge, part, no doubt, masochism, but mostly an uncontrollable obsession with her husbands sexuality, which has been long denied her. Renaming Marlene Nathalie, and creating a new, respectable identity for her, based on the sort of young women she knows Bernard is attracted to, she returns to the club after each, increasingly intimate, encounter to hear every detail of what has passed between her husband and the girl.
Ardants mask-like face perfectly shows the frissons of passion as the most detailed accounts of their lovemaking are recounted in Barts matter of fact tones. The relationship between the women changes its dynamics while they gain a strange friendship through their complicity against and, maybe, love for this man, (a sort of hardcore I Know Him So Well) they also begin to fall into a more recognisable prostitute/client relationship, with Catherine setting Nathalie up in an apartment, and the intensity of the telling sessions between the two coming more and more to resemble the gratification of the sex being described. An enormous twist in the end, which it would be unpardonable to tell, leads, nevertheless, to a resolution we may have seen coming.
But what does it all amount to? Certainly its a picture of women reclaiming power. Bernard does little but stumble around like an innocent, uncomprehending bear at the mercy of his urges. The pivotal locus of the film is the sex club – womblike, red, airless – where the clients seem biddable, perhaps merely rather tedious sources of income, and the madam runs a tight ship. Catherine and Nathalies professional worlds outside the club both involve women only Catherine is some kind of private gynaecologist, while Nathalie is training to be a beautician. In the end there’s no sense of revenge, just maybe an evolving into something new, which might well feel very menacing to the male viewer.
Confidences trop intimes, altogether lighter fare, also rests on evolving rrelationships. William (Fabrice Luchini) is a polite, lugubrious tax advisor, into whose office one day steps the beautiful Anna (Sandrine Bonnaire), mistaking it for that of his neighbouring psychotherapists. Before he realises the mistake (funny how marital problems can sound so like tax problems) she has revealed more than he really wants to know about the state of her marriage, and he hasnt the nerve to explain. Anna continues to visit, even after she learns of her mistake, taking comfort in his listening.
Meanwhile, unspoken, his fondness is growing, even when her husband comes to call and later pulls a nasty stunt. Luchini gives a delightful performance, enhanced for this viewer by his occasional and unnerving resemblance to Tony Blair in a certain light.
There are many quietly comic moments William dancing with delight to himself, the concierge watching an increasingly ludicrous soap opera, jokes at the expense of the psychotherapist, who is portrayed as a gruff money-grabber and the only cure we see of a patient of his is effected in no-nonsense fashion by the kindhearted Anna. But there are also longueurs, giving us a little too much, perhaps, of the silences and hesitancy between the two tentative protagonists.
As in Lecontes L’homme du train, where the effect of two delicate performances was marred by a heavy-handed underlining of the symbolism of the ending, the director seems to be struggling to know when to stop. At least two acceptable resolutions, both fairly bleak, come along and get overtaken by the extended final coda. Its as if he can’t bear to let go and leave his characters unhappy.
Both films are elegant, polished, consummately acted; both essentially about sexual relations, but in neither do we see very much that would require more than a 12 certificate. Instead emotions are stirred and changes effected by one character listening to another describe their lovemaking with a third party. Is talking rather than showing sex to be the new, chic way?