Claire (Kerry Fox, "An Angel at My Table"), a wife and mother, meets Jay (Mark Rylance, "Angels and Insects"), a divorced father of two, every Wednesday for urgent sex in the basement of his apartment. But when Jay oversteps their arrangement and begins to insinuate himself into Claire's life, two relationships are blown apart in French director Patrice Chereau's award winning English language debut, "Intimacy."

Laura's Review: B

Adapted from short stories by Hanif Kureishi ("My Beautiful Launderette") by the director and Anne Louise Trividic, "Intimacy" may well be the first hardcore art house film. This bleak reflection on the meaning of human intimacy and romantic relationships recalls both "Last Tango in Paris," although here the central relationship touches more than the people engaged in it and "An Affair of Love," although that film's melancholy is replaced with something deeper and darker here.

While Claire is set in a comfortable marriage, Jay is troubled by the recent dissolution of his. When Claire leaves him after their Wednesday assignations, he has nothing remaining to fill the void, although he tells his new friend, knowing coworker Victor (Alistair Galbraith), that the arrangement perfectly suits his new, single life. He begins to follow Claire and is shocked to discover her on stage in a local production of "The Glass Menagerie" while her dutiful cab driving husband plays pool next door to the theater. Jay strikes up a pub relationship with Andy (Timothy Spall, "Rock Star") and begins to bait him with stories about his lover.

The film is punctuated with five sex scenes, each completely different in nature, all erotic. In one of the first, the two have at each other furiously, then become slowly urgent, stripping off their watches as if to stop time. Later, as Jay becomes more emotionally involved, he arranges her sleeping nude body and sits back to admire her. When she awakens, she's embarrassed. Director of photography Eric Gautier uses a hand held camera to get intimately close to the actors.

Kerry Fox, who won Best Actress in Berlin for this role, is certainly brave in the sex scenes, although her character's feelings remain bottled up until the film's final scenes. When she does let go, with Andy not Jay, she's not likeable, treating her husband as an object of sympathy. Rylance gives the more intriguing performance, as he takes the audience along with him in his self-denial, although he's also capable of cruelty. The always reliable Timothy Spall is terrific as a Cockney cabbie desperate to maintain his own illusions.

Marianne Faithful seems like a bit of stunt casting as Claire's friend and student Betty, although she does have an intense acting class scene with young Frazer Ayres as Dave. Galbraith is prominent as the gay bartender who watches over Jay from the sidelines.

The film's magnificent, discordant score (Eric Neveux) sounds like that of a police thriller, intensifying both the isolation of these people's lives and the cat and mouse stalking they fall into. The perfectly complementary soundtrack features the music of Nick Cave, Iggy Pop and David Bowie.

"Intimacy" would have benefited from some trimming to focus more on its central three characters, but those three's naked expressions of love, lust and longing are vitally raw.

Robin's Review: B-

Jay (Mark Rylance) is an emotionally cold, unhappy man who abandoned his wife and kids and took a job running a nightclub. He begins an impromptu affair with a married actress, Claire (Kerry Fox), steeped in sex but with little other communication. When Jay breaks the rules and follows his lover home, he finds her husband, Andy (Timothy Spall), a taxi driver, at the local pub. When he strikes up a friendship with the cuckolded cabbie, Claire becomes furious and the clandestine affair comes to an end in "Intimacy."

I would have to look up what criteria the US Supreme Court uses to define soft core pornography, but I am suspect of where "Intimacy" would fall within those rules. For one thing, full frontal nudity aside, the sex scenes in "Intimacy" are more graphic than anything I have seen in any "mainstream" movie. Although this may be a turn off for the more sensitive or conservative viewer, it does represent, if you will, a ballsy move by helmer/scripter Patrice Chereau (with co writer Anne-Louise Trividic) on a subject that hasn't been explored as fully since Bernardo Bertolucci's 1972 seminal sex-without-emotional-involvement film "Last Tango in Paris."

"Intimacy" is a niche film that is geared toward the more serious film-goer. The near silent affair that takes place between Jay and Claire is erotic and meant to titillate the prurient interests of the viewer. When Jay clandestinely follows Claire home and meets Andy, the focus of the story changes from obsession to deception. Claire, who has been moving away from the relationship with Jay, is both angered and hurt that her lover would flirt with a situation that would end her marriage to Andy, who is a genuinely likable bloke.

Mark Rylance plays Jay very close to the chest. He is a sullen, uncommunicative guy who has problems sustaining a normal relationship with the opposite sex. His near-silent affair with Claire seems like the best thing for him but his obsession causes him to ruin that too. As his friendship with Andy develops he has a need to tell the man about his affair without mentioning Claire's name, almost like a confession. Kerry Fox as Claire, on the other hand, fears losing her husband because of her infidelity and turns against Jay. I have questions about believing that Jay and Claire would be attracted to each other, except as unhappy people seeking comfort in the physical act of sex. However, aside from the excitement of raw sex, there is little comfort between Jay and Claire.

Timothy Spall, once again, proves to be an outstanding character actor and is the most fully developed in the film. He's the kind of guy you would like to sit around the pub with and share a pint. Also notable is Philippe Calvario as Ian, a younger gay guy who Jay hires as a bartender in the nightclub where he works. Victor, detached from the heterosexual angst that Jay is going through, is the muse that the older man needs to keep on an even keel, even if his advice goes unheeded.

"Intimacy" is a tale of the loneliness of two people who seek to replace needed emotional involvement with physical lust, but, without love, sex is a shallow substitute.