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Patrice Leconte: The Intimate Stranger

French filmmaker Patrice Leconte has made a career of films about opposites who attract. With such films as Girl on the Bridge, Man on the Train, and The Hairdresser’s Husband his films deal with characters who try to figure each other out and in the process form an unlikely but strong and complimentary relationship.

Intimate Strangers deals with just this theme. The film stars Sandrine Bonnaire as Anna a woman seeking psychiatric help and Fabrice Luchini as William a tax accountant who unwittingly becomes her psychiatrist. From there the film becomes a character study comedy and a love story with a subtle twist of suspense just to keep things interesting.

Here is some of what Patrice Leconte had to say to us about Intimate Strangers, his philosophy on life and film and how he feels about American films.

‘The scriptwriter [Jerome Tonnerre] proposed to me a short 25-page script. He said to me, ‘Read it, Patrice, and if you like the beginning of the movie we can invent the following.’ And I agreed because the beginning was so simple, so clear, and so normal. From the starting point you can imagine a comedy, or a real thriller. Maybe this woman (Sandrine Bonnaire) is a Russian spy? Or who knows? It’s open. So we started working, impatient to find out what was going to happen between the two characters.’

‘I think more or less each movie is a love story. And this movie is just a little bit more particular because it starts like a Hitchcock movie with mysterious behavior from this woman (Sandrine Bonnaire) who knocks at the wrong door. At this moment in the story you don’t know you are following a love story. But later – day after day, scene after scene – this mysterious ‘Hitchcock movie’ becomes a love story. But the important thing I was very interested in is [that] the audience knows that the characters are in love before the characters do. Yet I never wanted to call it a love story because it is more atypical than that.’

‘[Sandrine] and I worked together years before in Monsieur Hire and we always promised to work together again. Finally, after all of these years, a script came along that was perfect for the both of us. She accepted the role immediately. I think the audiences will see a different side to her because the role she played is more ambiguous and raw than she usually plays. This is my first time working with Fabrice. He is a very good comic actor but I told him to try and not be funny. He said he would feel he was too boring. I said, ‘Trust me.’ When he finally saw the film he said, ‘You were right. I acted boring, but it worked.”

‘The thing I prefer to do when I’m thinking about a new movie is always the same thing. It’s to start with a realistic situation – very normal and simplistic and after[wards] slowly to move and forget the realistic things. For my taste, cinema and reality are two different things. In reality, for example, if you knock at the wrong door the guy opens and you say, ‘Oh, I’m wrong, I’m wrong – bye bye.’ And he closes the door and there is no movie. Or the guy can say: ‘No, no, no I’m not a psychoanalyst. He is at the other end of the corridor.’ And she says, ‘I’m sorry I was wrong.’ and again no movie. At the beginning of [Intimate Strangers] the situation is normal. It’s a question of imagination taking off from reality.’

‘In a love story the best part of the story is when the man and the woman are going up the stairs. After – when they enter into the bedroom – it’s interesting too but it’s less interesting for the moviemaker than the moment before. Because before [their physical love begins] you can suggest a lot of things. You can see the clouds with love flying above their heads and so on.’

‘Here in America you make fantastic, amazing movies with a lot of special effects. I’m very fond of these kinds of movies; I saw The Matrix series and so on. We don’t have any special effects in [French] movies. Maybe we are closer to human nature: man, woman, sensibility, and so on. Maybe it’s too French, maybe it is too exotic for you. But I know one thing — I am very fond of human nature, love, and feelings. And my main goal is to share my emotions. When I see a famous American movie, even if I like it – when I go out of the theatre my question is always, ‘Hmmm, it was a perfect movie, very interesting, but where is the emotion?’ For me the main reason I’m a director is to share emotions. As Samuel Fuller said, ‘Cinema is first of all a question of emotion.’ Today in American movies I sense they forget this.’

‘In our society the thing about which I am so afraid of is loneliness. You can today continue your life alone; with a computer, watching TV or DVD, making love by Internet maybe. You can stay alone and it’s terrible because my feeling is today people are more and more and more closed. If we want to change and become better it is only with other people. We have to share emotions, to trust another person. It is not only a question of love. This movie takes this kind of concept as a kind of philosophy. I’m not trying to teach a moral with this film but there is a spirit or philosophy of opening yourself up to other experiences and emotions as opposed to closing up.’

‘I’m not a postman – but the message is [that] it’s a very simple emotion that can save the world. And this emotion is respect for other people. If everyone on the planet — from the politicians who run and make decisions for everyone else, down to the most common people — if everyone operated with that philosophy of respecting the other person, if everyone operated that way then all the problems would disappear. If this were in effect then there wouldn’t be war, there wouldn’t be famine, there would be mutual aid going around and if someone knocked on the wrong door the person opening it would not slam it in their face. They would make these connections. Even though I only make films it is something that preoccupies me and you have to believe that you can make a difference and that it will make the world better.’

‘If I continue the movie [after the credits] I have to show William (Fabrice) and Anna (Sandrine) falling in their each others’ arms and kissing a lot and so on. It is not boring at all but at this moment it’s not for me. For my taste I’ve finished my work. After the end credits the story continues but it’s their story not mine. I can’t decide with my brain [that] this is the right moment to stop this story and so on. It is only a question of feeling. Don’t ask me why because I don’t know the answer. I feel it’s a good moment…but, you know, my favorite verb is ‘to do’ and my least favorite verb is ‘to think.’ I prefer to do things than to speak and reflect on it and how’s and why’s and so on… my philosophy is the same philosophy as Nike: Just do it.’

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