Bee-stung lips, silicon breasts, toned abs - - none of these is on show in Intimacy. Patrice Chéreau's first film in English - - after the likes of La Reine Margot and Ceux Qui M'aiment Prendront Le Train - - is anti-Hollywood when it comes to portraying sex on screen. His stars have unwaxed, liposuction-free bodies, they make love in a naturally clumsy manner that's not given a false, erotic edge by camera choreography, and the explicit material (an unadorned shot of a blow-job has been left uncut by British censors) is compelling but far from titillating. This is desire and obsession as it really is - - complete with joy and despair, pain and confusion.
It's when dealing unpretentiously with these grown-up themes, experienced almost every day by most of the film's audience, that Intimacy reveals an honesty and intelligence rarely seen in today's cinema. The performances by Mark Rylance and Kerry Fox are exceptional, and are given strong support by Eric Gautier's handheld camerawork. Caught in the cold light of the camera eye, these are people who have nothing to hide physically, only emotionally.
However, that focus is distracted by a bunch of secondary characters who function simply as channels for the film's big themes, or as sounding boards for the taciturn central pair. The weakest, most unrealistic scenes concern Jay and gay French barman Ian (Philippe Calvario), whose ponderous, cliched philosophising overloads the film with chin-stroking "meaning".
Yet overall, Chéreau keeps his eye on the details and manages to avoid superficiality, packing the story with thought-provoking material - and, as undeniably graphic as Intimacy's sex scenes are, it's the brain that will be stimulated - not another, less discriminating organ.
Watch the trailer
Romance and the upcoming Baise-Moi fought their own censorship battles, so fingers crossed that Intimacy will be assessed in its own right, not as a cause célèbre. Pretensions aside, it's a mature movie that breaks new sexual ground for intelligent ends.