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Posted: Oct 29 2004, 06:19 AM
Member No.: 145
Joined: 21-October 04
Film review: Patrice Leconte’s CONFIDENCES TROP INTIMES (2004)
The latest from France’s premier exponent of romantic melancholia is a partial return to the obsessive themes of Leconte’s 1989 Georges Simenon adaptation MONSIEUR HIRE, not least in its casting of HIRE’s Sandrine Bonnaire as the object of desire of another middle-aged introvert, this time LE BOSSU’s Fabrice Luchini. But despite careful work all round - including fine performances from the two leads and an intoxicating atmosphere of sexual tension - CONFIDENCES TROP INTIMES (or INTIMATE STRANGERS as its English title has been transliterated) never quite ascends to the heights promised by the intriguing premise, and can only be regarded as a disappointment after the sublime character study of Leconte’s previous hit L’HOMME DU TRAIN (2003).
Playfully echoing the mistaken-identity fulcrum around which revolve the pyrotechics of celebrated Hitchcock thrillers like NORTH BY NORTHWEST, CONFIDENCES gives us a protagonist several steps down from Roger Thornhill’s charismatic advertising executive in the shape of anally-retentive tax lawyer William Faber (Luchini), whose quiet office is visited one day by the troubled Anna Delambre (Bonnaire) who has mistaken him for the therapist (Michel Duchaussoy) who practices next door. She quickly launches into an account of the more intimate details of her dysfunctional marriage, and Faber finds himself reluctant to point out her error in confiding in him; before he’s had time to fully think through the implications, he’s agreed to meet her for another “session” the following week. Although the misunderstanding is resolved relatively quickly, the pair find themselves locked into a curious mutual dependency, with Faber wordlessly accepting his new role of voyeur/confessor to Anna’s increasingly explicit revelations regarding the sexual proclivities of her brutal husband. Truth and fiction become more difficult to separate in Anna’s confessions, and Faber begins to suspect that she may not have stumbled into his office by chance after all…
Given this interesting buildup, it’s a shame that the film’s crucial third act fails to ignite into the conflagration hoped for. While Sandrine Bonnaire executes the role of the enigmatic Anna as well as the script will allow, she never quite transcends the artificiality of the character – Anna’s manipulative game-playing ultimately makes her an unendearing subject for our sympathies, and it’s simultaneously hard to imagine her having an existence beyond the contrivances of BELPHEGOR screenwriter Jerome Tonnerre’s script. (Incidentally, my partner found Bonnaire’s self-conscious cigarette-smoking grating, and was also driven to distraction by the studied eccentricity of her wardobe.) Leconte has been accused of underwriting his female characters before – he’s overly reliant on quirky archetypes rarely as interesting as their male counterparts, and his strongest films (TANDEM, TANGO, L’HOMME DU TRAIN) focus almost exclusively on male relationships, with women only addressed parenthetically, if at all – and it’s a criticism which seems regrettably pertinent here, too. On the other side of the desk, Fabrice Luchini gives a deceptively inexpressive performance as the passive financial adviser, an interpretation which gradually reveals itself to be composed of considerable nuance as the film progresses; and in one marvellously unexpected private moment (which I won’t spoil here) reveals that his tightly-controlled façade masks a delirious passion he seems incapable of conveying in the presence of another human being. However, the talents of the wonderful Gilbert Melki, so versatile in Lucas Belvaux’s LA TRILOGIE (and especially APRES LA VIE), are largely wasted here; cast as Bonnaire’s sinister husband Marc, he’s afforded little opportunity to do anything but appear obscurely menacing in a couple of scenes before disappearing from the scenario completely.
A master at fermenting potent sensuality, Leconte certainly succeeds in suffusing the film with a rich erotic texture that lingers in the mind long after one’s dissatisfactions with the narrative material have faded. He’s aided immeasurably here through the marriage of claustrophobic ‘scope compositions of Eduardo Serra and, in a contribution whose significance can’t be stressed enough, composer Pascal Esteve’s swirling arpeggios; the subtle Hitchcockian qualities of the piece, with its oblique references to both Kim Novak’s calculating temptress in VERTIGO and the archetypal femme fatale of the film noir (represented here in a clip from, I think, Gerard [TAXI 2 & 3] Krawczyk’s 1981 Chandler pastiche LE CONCEPT SUBTIL), are wonderfully brought to the fore in a score which suggests Philip Glass channelling the spirit of Bernard Herrmann. (It’s entirely possible, however, that the music may overstep the mark for some; my partner enjoyed it up to a point but felt the use of the score too overpowering in the final analysis.)
The cross-pollination from other genres doesn’t end with the detective thriller. With its subtextual struggle between light and darkness, CONFIDENCES flirts almost subliminally with the tropes of the vampire film, too. Like a 21st-century Carmilla Karnstein, Anna draws vitality and confidence from Faber’s growing obsession with her, effecting a gradual metamorphosis from the awkward, dowdy neurotic we see at the outset into the radiant creature we see at the close, finally capable of emerging into the light. A succubus, maybe, but not a malevolent one; she’s simply a damaged woman, coping with a hostile world in the best way she knows how. All the characters, in fact, seem to be defined to a greater of lesser extent by emblematic deficiencies of some sort: Faber is unable to drive, his ex is a novelist manqué reduced to selling other writers’ work in a bookshop, Marc is physically crippled – perhaps accidentally, perhaps not – while Anna’s photophobia suggests a persona which dwells in a penumbral world of half-truths and fantasies.
Throughout, the tawdry sensationalism of a cheesy daytime soap opera stands in sharp contrast to the subdued intensity of Anna and Faber’s unusual ménage – a reflection, perhaps, on the inner conflicts of Anna’s character, torn between the excitement of a fantasy life devoid of consequences and the very real agonies of the virulent sickness called love. If CONFIDENCES TROP INTIMES fails to resonate quite as strongly as some of Patrice Leconte’s earlier titles, it remains an engrossing meditation on the often melancholy business of losing one’s heart – a variation on a theme familiar in this director’s work from THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND to RUE DES PLAISIRS, and whose strength remains undiminished in this latest incarnation.