> Volume 6 > Number 22


Patrice Leconte

Sandrine Bonnaire
Fabrice Luchini
Michel Duchaussoy
Anne Brochet
Gilbert Melki

Release: N/A

Intimate Strangers


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

©2004, David Perry,, 28 May 2004