BY: DAVID PERRY
Iíve come to believe that Patrice Leconte makes the
prototypical French film, the one that most Americans imagine packs crowds
in French cinematheques regenerating each week (much like the
South Park joke that all independent films are about gay cowboys). His
stuffy characters and their somewhat turgid problems rarely make much
of an impact with anyone other than the true Francophiles. From The
Hairdresserís Husband to Monsieur Hire to The Man on the Train, the
impression is that his characters are the embodiment of the French image,
and all the baggage that comes with it.
Now, Iím a self-professed Francophile, and Iíve come to welcome each Leconte
film, not out of some understanding that Iíll get something new. Instead I
find them dependable. Heís only tested himself twice, once to great
disappointment (Ridicule), the other to amazing triumph (The Girl on the
Bridge), while the balance of his works are about simple, barely
noticeable French people. These are the minor dramas that could converge at
a cafť on Mercredi aprŤs-midi, personal squabbles unknown to the other customers.
Here, the storyline couldnít seem more French: Anna (Bonnaire; ethereal as
usual) mistakenly walks into a tax accountantís office when arriving for her
psychiatrist appointment. Unwilling to correct her error, the taxman (Luchini)
continues to act as her psychiatrist so that he might share some time with
her. In America, this would be the premise for a quirky romantic comedy
starring Brittany Murphy, but in France it turns out to be an overview of
marital abandonment and adult isolation.
Even if Intimate Strangers isnít quite as tightly woven and simple as Leconteís better films (with age, his films have seemingly gotten bogged
down by excessive subplots -- you could seemingly fit four showings of The
Hairdresserís Husband into The Widow of Saint-Pierre), it has the
satisfaction that makes the whole effort feel worthwhile. Like a light,
dependable French dish (say, an entrťe of escargot), the pinky-in-the-air
mentality is palpable, but the food is still easy to digest.