Intimate Strangers (French)

NOTE: This review was written without the cooperation of — indeed, against the wishes of — Paramount Classics, which at this time denied online film critics access to press screenings of its movies.

“Intimate Strangers” is a talky drama that feels like an erotic thriller. It gives us an unusual connection between strangers, hints at odd events in the periphery, and is driven by an ominous-sounding musical score. You keep waiting for something to happen … and then it doesn’t.

As talky dramas go, it’s passable, and well-acted by its principals. It’s about a somewhat scatter-brained woman named Anna (Sandrine Bonnaire) who goes to see a psychiatrist but walks into a tax attorney’s office down the hall by mistake. Not realizing she’s talking to a lawyer and not a shrink, she tells the attorney, William Faber (Fabrice Luchini), that her marriage is falling apart. She asks for an appointment to come back next week to start her “sessions.” Faber, a shy man who isn’t great with interpersonal relationships anyway and who lives in a room behind his office, is too stunned to say anything.

Anna learns the truth about Faber eventually, but she still keeps coming to see him. Talking to him is therapeutic, she says. Her husband wants her to have sex with other men, she says. Faber becomes a little obsessed with her, but he doesn’t know if he’s the man she wants to have sex with.

Director Patrice Leconte has made other relationship-centered films that were more engaging than this one. “The Widow of Saint-Pierre” (2000) was about a captain’s wife who befriends a condemned man while the latter is living in their home, awaiting his execution. “The Man on the Train” (2002) told of two men, one a professor and one a thief, who each begin to think the other’s life would have been interesting to have lived.

“Intimate Strangers” doesn’t approach either of these films’ level of insight or sophistication. Additionally, though it keeps raising the stakes — the husband even appears in Faber’s office at one point, and he’s not happy — it never actually allows anything to happen. It is intent on remaining a talky drama, when in this case a talky drama isn’t enough to compel a viewer to continue viewing.

C+ (1 hr., 44 min.; in French with subtitles; R, a few F-words, some sexual dialogue.)