14 March 2005


Henry James' "The Beast in the Jungle" and Dostoevsky's "A Gentle Creature" are my very favorite works of short fiction, so I was delighted by Patrice Leconte's film, Intimate Strangers. His reference to the James story added another lovely layer of subtext to an already rich experience: William was able to cross a line that Marcher couldn't even comprehend.

Jeffrey Overstreet's illuminating interview with Leconte touches on the issue:
But what draws him to this theme again and again?, I ask. What draws him to heroes who transgress their routines to find freedom? Leconte pauses, deep in thought, and then speaks excitedly in French, turning to the translator so he can respond with enthusiasm rather than use his skilled but cautious English.

“There is something very curious and interesting in what you are saying. There is nothing more interesting than meeting someone who casts a new light on your work. I have never thought about it, but you’re absolutely right in what you say about the obsession in my movies’ main characters. It’s true that the situations revolve around the temptation of transgressing something that is forbidden.”
It's interesting to think that some of the most securely entrenched boundaries are those we ourselves construct. While watching the movie, I was reminded of various songs by The Innocence Mission, such as "The Girl On My Left":

Some days ring out into night
my failures with people right here.
The living room growing wide.
If I get near, what will I say?
Miles to fly over,
miles to the girl on my left.

In William's open gaze, we see his perplexity in being confronted with the revelation of his own confinement. Yet Anna is not set free by his decision, but by her own. One of the strengths of the film is how the characters are not led by the hand, but come to their own conclusions by the presence (not intervention) of the other. They must figure it out for themselves.

The interview concludes:
Sometimes, his empathy for his characters haunts him after his work on a picture is finished. “I find that very interesting … the question of what happens to the characters after the movies are over. At the end of Girl on the Bridge, I’m not worrying about the two of them. But at the end of The Hairdresser’s Husband, I’m very worried for Antoine (Jean Rochefort). Things will probably not go well.”

And what about Intimate Strangers’ Anna and William? He smiles. “They’re going to be all right.”

On that hopeful note, our time together is up. Before I can thank him, he actually jogs around the large table to shake my hand, generous to the last, as if he were not the special guest but the host. “Merci beaucoup,” he says. “Thanks for shedding some light on my work. So … now I know …” Beaming with pleasure, he exclaims, “I am a filmmaker of transgression!”

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