Best to Avoid 'Strangers'; French Romantic Comedy Turns off on Its Promise

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The French import "Intimate Strangers" clarifies its thematic intentions even before introducing the title characters, lovelorn souls (played by Sandrine Bonnaire and Fabrice Luchini) who may or may not transcend their romantic discontents after becoming acquainted by chance.

The odds against redemptive happiness look longer than they should by the time director and co-writer Patrice Leconte finishes belaboring a premise with considerable romantic comedy promise.

A stopover in the apartment of a concierge alerts us to lines from a TV soap opera she happens to be watching: "He listens to me. He understands me." Moments later Miss Bonnaire's Anna, a woman desperate for a sympathetic listener, knocks on an upstairs door in the same building. She is admitted by Mr. Luchini's William. During their conversation in his office it becomes apparent that she has mistaken him for a psychotherapist, Dr. Monnier, whose office is down the hall.

Actually a mild-mannered tax consultant, William is too shy, polite and intrigued to correct her misconception on short acquaintance. After she departs, looking forward to a second session, William does confide in Dr. Monnier (Michel Duchaussoy in a relaxed and witty performance that makes you wish he were a major character), who takes the opportunity to charge the alternate patient for reassuring professional advice.

William goes on to point out, in explanation for letting Anna babble, that tax clients have a way of unloading their love lives indiscriminately, and Dr. Monnier observes that both shrinks and tax advisers must evaluate what to declare and what to conceal.

At this point the movie seems to be pointing in a diverting and astute direction. The outlook grows very obscure, however, with repeated exposure to Anna, who claims to be an estranged wife and likes to oppress William with accounts of a sexually degenerate and perhaps predatory husband. …