Intimate Strangers (2004)

Rated R Our content rating: V-0; L-4; S-5/N-0

The hearing ear and the seeing eye—
the LORD has made them both.
Proverbs 20:12

Intimate Strangers

If you like French films, chances are you have seen director Patrice Leconte’s Ridicule, The Widow of Saint-Pierreot or The Man on the Train, all which have been reviewed in VP. His latest, a quirky romance, is my favorite, a film suggesting that we can all become vessels of grace if we are willing to listen. Anna Delambre (Sandrine Bonnaire) has an appointment with a psychiatrist, but she enters the wrong office down the hall from her destination, winding up across the desk from William Faber (Fabrice Luchini), mild-mannered tax consultant. She gushes forth her marital troubles so suddenly that the poor man can only sit back and listen. Besides, he has often listened as his clients pour out many of their frustrations and family secrets. By the time Anna pauses, she has revealed so much that Faber is too embarrassed to tell her she has the wrong man. She leaves after making another appointment.

William Faber is one of those men who drift through life, in danger of dying before he ever lives. His office is part of the flat in which he grew up. He has inherited not only his father’s business, but even the secretary who once had a crush on him, Madame Mulon (Helene Surgere). During Anna’s subsequent visits the secretary’s scowling face voices her strong disapproval of what she suspects is transpiring behind the closed door of her employer’s office. Faber visits the psychiatrist Docteur Monnier (Michel Duchaussoy) and tells him what has happened, the good doctor telling him that as long as he is not attempting to treat the woman, it is okay—and he hands over a bill to Faber charging him for his time. Later, over a free lunch Monnier continues to offer advice. Faber also tells his ex-girl friend Jeanne (Anne Brochet), who is in the process of moving out of his flat because she has become tired of William’s inability to progress any further in their relationship. She, of course, tells him he must tell Anne her mistake.

Anne reveals more and more of her strange relationship with her mismatched husband—how she had crippled him in a car accident, and how he wants her to become intimate with another man so that he can watch. When William does reveal that he is not a psychiatrist, she is very upset, berating him for allowing her to spill so many intimate secrets. She leaves, and yet returns to continue their sessions. What results is a conclusion full of hope and grace as the inert listener slowly is transformed by what he hears. This is a film of restrained passions—William Faber seems at times like one of those Jane Austin characters who can never come out and express their thoughts and emotions. It is so refreshing to watch two people talk and share secrets and refrain from tearing off their clothes and jumping into bed—even though there is a couch in Faber’s office. Add this to your list of “must see” films, even if you live far from an art house and have to wait for it to come out on video.

For Reflection/Discussion

:

1) What does this film suggest about a ministry of listening? How is it important that a person share their problems/thoughts/feelings with another? With whom can you be intimate?

2) How do we see William change during the story? His “dancing” alone? His tie that Anna asks about? His decision to take action when Anna leaves?

3) How does Anna show that her condition is improving? How does she “pass it on”—that is, whom does she herself help?

4) When the film comes out on video, watch it for the way in which the director uses the camera to reveal things about relationships and points of view. What does the high overhead shot at the end of the film communicate?

5) What moments of grace do you see? How might God be “in the details” of the relationships of the various characters?