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"Listening is a lost art in our times."
on February 26, 2005
Anna, (Sandrine Bonnaire), opens the wrong door and ends up in the office of tax attorney William Faber, (Fabrice Luchini), instead of next door for her first appointment with Dr. Monnier, a psychiatrist. Before the bemused Farber can straighten things out, Anna begins to unburden herself candidly, as if she's been on the couch for years. "I have an urgent problem," says she. Then, confessing that her marriage is on the rocks, her husband unemployed and impotent - he hasn't touched her in six months - she begins to cry. William is stunned, moved by her tears, but before he can respond she is out the door. Fast exit, no payment. Everyone knows that the fee is part of therapy.
Faber's life is bland. He lives in the flat where he was born, never having moved or really traveled. He inherited his father's business and many of the old clients. Used to an orderly existence, he lives alone and usually takes dinner by himself, with a glass of wine, while listening to music. Occasionally, through the window, he catches glimpses of couples, other lives. Jeanne, his last and perhaps only love, (Anne Brochet of the wonderful smile), left him for another man but they get together occasionally and maintain a close friendship. He is decidedly intrigued by Anna's visit but does not expect a repeat performance.
He is fascinated after visit number 2, when he finally manages to blurt out, "I'm not a doctor." Anna responds quickly, that she knows many therapists are not doctors and that's fine by her. Again, she leaves quickly. William is the one to visit Dr. Monnier, the shrink, (Michel Duchaussoy), who tells him that this situation is about his own problems and not Anna's. He also explains that accounting and psychiatry are not that different because, "they both decide what to hide and what to reveal."
As Anna and William's sessions continue and become more intimate and graphic, William is clearly aroused, almost titillated at times. He obviously begins to develop feelings for this confused, attractive woman, who says she wants nothing more than to regain her husband's affections. Yet, the two are deeply drawn to each other, their role playing is a way to form a bond without emotional risk. They are both odd, but sympathetic characters. William had dreams of adventure once, when younger, however he has become entrenched, staid, with middle age. A sensitive but repressed man, he has not lived life to the fullest. He is captivated by the graceful, unpredictable Anna. And she is intense, mysterious, vulnerable, and one gets a sense that no one has ever bothered to listen to her before. But can she be trusted?
Anna eventually learns Farber's true identity as a financial planner - just when he was making such progress as a therapist too. The plot takes a further twist when Marc, Anna's creepy husband, enters the picture which adds another touch of Hitchcock to the mix. The movie does succeed in becoming a low-keyed, but taut thriller. William's secretary, Madame Mulon, (Helene Surgere), adds a light touch as she tries to discover what on earth is going on behind the closed doors of her employer's office.
Patrice Leconte is an excellent director. He has a knack for developing characters, and here he has two superb actors to work with. The brooding musical score is atmospheric and serves to add tension. One of the film's major themes is expressed clearly by Dr. Monnier who says, "Listening is a lost art in our times: not even barbers, beauticians, or bartenders seem to have the knack or the patience anymore to attend to others in this way." I was deeply touched by "Intimate Strangers." It is an elusive piece, romantic, Freudian in a good sense, with a wonderful conclusion. Highly recommended!