Confidences Trop Intimes

By Max Leonard

Ah, sex and money, money and sex – two things we are obsessed by, and eternal causes for complaint amongst those that have no luck with either. But are they so different? What if, when seeking help with one, you accidentally find you're consulting a specialist in the other? Far from going down the lewd and potentially farcical road that this may suggest to those who like their movies bawdy or blue (neither beggars nor courtesans feature), Patrice Leconte instead crafts a finely wrought and emotionally satisfying drama. Anna (Sandrine Bonnaire) is having marital problems, but knocks on the wrong door en route to an appointment with her new shrink. She is confronted instead by William Faber (Fabrice Luchini), accountant extraordinaire who, tongue-tied and uptight, is unable to correct her mistake before she has unburdened her woes, booked another 'session', and left. From this slight premise, the film takes off: the comedy of the opening exchanges is deftly handled, and the situation develops in a way that both avoids absurdity, and naturalistically handles the blossoming rapport between the two.

Anna quickly figures out that Faber's faking but is nonetheless comforted – and curious – and hence continues to visit, much to the disapproval of the matronly secretary (an excellent Hélène Surgère); Faber visits the real doctor (a slyly serious Michel Duchaussoy) a few doors along for some tips, and, in a comic twist, is challenged to confront his own neuroses and talk to this attractive woman who is crying out for help. The focus throughout the film is firmly on the two main characters and their foibles, despite some excellently sketched minor characters – perhaps the funniest being the penny-pinching freud-a-like, and the homebody concierge so engrossed in TV soap schlock that she fails to spot the growing melodrama within her own walls. The confines of Faber's bureau can be felt in the close camerawork that minutely studies the feelings and reactions of the two leads. And they repay the attention; finely and subtly acted, Anna and Faber have contrasting personalities yet begin to share an intimacy whose power faber is reluctant to acknowledge.

The dynamic of their relationship elaborates upon one of Leconte's preoccupations, that of two idiosyncratic people thrown into close proximity by chance, and in this they resemble that odd couple Manesquier and Milan in Leconte's last film, L'Homme du Train (2002). In that particular scenario, the juxtaposition was between Jean Rochefort's retired teacher and Jonny Halliday's weary old crook, who gets off a train one night at a provincial station and arrives at his door looking for a place to sleep. Initially distrustful, they warm to each other and begin to imagine what it would be like to walk in the other's shoes – if only for a short while. Opposites do not clash in these films, they gradually accommodate, and as Faber experiments with playing counsellor, he loosens up. Anna, who has initially bared all, comes to respect the sensitive self-restraint of her listener, divining that still waters run deeper than the constraints of life following in his father's staid footsteps (beautifully evoked by the bourgeois interiors) might suggest.

But this is to make the film sound, well, dull, and it decidedly is not. It raised more than a few quiet chuckles in this bear and, as in L'Homme du Train, Leconte shows his great dexterity in creating bizarre but believable intrigue out of fairly sedate situations, a plot that holds the interest through being original rather than outlandish. Its themes chime quite readily with what you might more usually call a stereotypically 'English' sensibility. Faber's emotional inarticulacy (let's not beat around the bush – repression) is almost of stiff-upper-lip calibre and would seem more at home in, say, a Notting Hill-dwelling, floppy-haired fop (thanks for that, Hugh). It also follows other recent French comedies of manners, notably Veber's Le Diner de Cons (1998) and Jaoui's Le Gout des Autres (2001), that even dare to presume to teach us something about class in society. Leconte's famous Ridicule (1996) also tackles this oh so English of obsessions, though as that was set in pre-revolution times Egalité was, presumably, in shorter supply.

In another sense of the word, class is something that this film definitely does not lack: in this it remains French through and through. Though it doesn't riff overly on it's Paris setting, Anna's elegance only comes when one lives close to the Boulevard St Germain, and can't be bought in any Oxford street boutique. Looking at the many private and government collaborators listed in the credits who financed and made the film, it's not hard to see why the French still produce classical films that are recognisably within a rich, atmospheric national tradition – think perhaps Mimouni (L'Appartement, 1996), Rohmer, or Kieslowski's Three Colours trilogy. Leconte is one of France's most celebrated contemporary directors, and his reputation alone should convince anyone, in London or Paris, that his latest offering is well worth seeing. The film is an intelligent and ciné-literate work that plays around with the psychoanalytic allusions within the plot, as it similarly toys with the spectator: the wish-fulfilment implicit in the final scenes made this emotionally inarticulate Englishman pleased that he went.
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