dir. Chereau
Opens Fri Jan 4
Cinema 21

FRENCH movies are great, because they have a lot less glamour in them than American movies. In that spirit, this particular French movie, Intimacy, shows average-looking people having average sex. No one is airbrushed, shaved, or shadowed in muted light, and when they kiss, it isn't all mushy and beautiful and romantic. The people in this movie have sex the way I imagine a lot of people do--on dirty mattresses, in bedrooms, on the floor. Regardless, there is A LOT of sex in this movie and it is extremely explicit.

This very sexual story revolves around Jay (Mark Rylance) and Claire (Kerry Fox). Jay is miserably stuck in his job as a bar manager, and is still painfully in love with his ex-wife and their two sons. Claire, like Jay, is also miserable and trapped, but trapped in a marriage rather than outside of it. She's an actress, and her husband is a dumpy cab-driver who worships her. Claire is smothered by his love, as well as her parental obligation to her son, which is why she starts an affair with Jay. It's a passive-aggressive way to rebel against her confinements and hurt her husband.

While Intimacy is certainly worth seeing for its believable acting and characters, it isn't exactly revolutionary in what it has to say about sex, love, and power. However, it certainly illuminates sex with a candor that few movies have done before, and yet the sex doesn't really become gratuitous. Because the movie is about the affair between Claire and Jay, and the relationship between Claire and Jay is about sex, the sex isn't just sex--it's plot.

In the first few scenes, sex illuminates the casual premise of the relationship between Claire and Jay. Both participants have other agendas, and tell themselves that it doesn't matter who they're screwing, as long as it's an anonymous screw. They almost never talk, but their interactions are gruff and hasty. Clothes are torn off, people are thrown to the floor, eyes never meet.

Of course, Jay and Claire can't stay detached, and as their lives fall apart, they become more dependent on each other, without really wanting to admit it. Sex becomes more tender between them, more reciprocal. They move slowly and count on each other for more. Clothes are taken off purposefully. They kiss more often. They begin to wait for each other to show up.

This slow, getting-to-know-each-other dance is somewhat erotic, but also much too frank to be sexy. It's not gross, exactly, but because the two characters are so miserable, and because sex is their only outlet, it seems sick and desperate. It's almost embarrassing to see two people so vulnerable, and when it's not embarrassing, it's comical; They'll remind you of watching animals mate in a nature documentary.

Just as sex is the crutch on which the plot relies, the characters are developed by sexual interactions. Jay expresses his longing for his wife, and his loneliness, by sneaking into her bed at night, smelling her bras, and jerking off. Claire is filled with so much disdain for her husband, she cannot stand to be within a foot of him.

It's true we all know how emotionally volatile sex can be, but this movie goes beyond sensationalism to capture that power and capitalize on it. This is the movie's strength, and thus, the sex scenes are the most riveting parts. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie occasionally drags. Scenes of Jay following Claire through the streets and on buses all over London go on for way too long, and it's one of those movies in which nothing really happens, ever. Yet the conclusions that the movie makes--what it has to say about the ways in which people need and use sex--are right on the money.