Academic journal article Literature/Film Quarterly

The Politics of Intimacy in Hanif Kureishi's Films and Fiction

Academic journal article Literature/Film Quarterly

The Politics of Intimacy in Hanif Kureishi's Films and Fiction

Article excerpt

Author, playwright, and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi navigates freely between the written genre and the filmed genre, from screenplay to film or novel to television, finding his written works often translated to the big screen (My Beautiful Laundrette [Frears, 1985], Sammy and Rosie Get Laid [Frears, 1987], My Son the Fanatic [Prasad, 1997]) or turned into television adaptations (The Buddha of Suburbia [BBC, 1993]). His writing, especially in novel or short story form, has a visual quality that transcends the separation between the written word and the filmed frame. In fact Kureishi's narratives tend to float seamlessly in a postmodern, postcolonial aesthetic, mixing a linguistic and visual cocktail that includes humor and seriousness, references to high culture and lowbrow culture, with a dash of raw sex, poured into characters, who, "intoxicated and frustrated" at the same time, possess a common trait: they are always attempting to live life "this intensely" (The Buddha of Suburbia 15).

The most confounding moments in Kureishi's films, plays, novels, and novellas are probably the most intimate ones-when a couple is communicating through touch, from the gentle kiss to a more erotic embrace. Furthermore, this intimate contact often takes place in typically impersonal environments-harsh, cold, gray London neighborhoods that do not normally appear on tourist maps. Kureishi's London is his London, or rather the South London neighborhoods where he grew up, on the edges. In Patrice Chéreau's loosely based film adaptation of the novella Intimacy (2001), a man and a woman share very intense physical moments that make their "Wednesday" encounters verge on the edge of soft porn. But what makes these intimate encounters so compelling is that they take place in the man's disheveled apartment, "somewhere" in London, on one of those gray days that hover over many northern European cities any time of the year. Marked by a tube station, gray brick row houses, wide open streets where cars occasionally drive by, bus shelters, and a lone unremarkable pub, the London of Kureishi, both austere and familiar, indexes a bland urban backdrop. From this melancholy, almost two-dimensional theatrical backdrop-an aesthetic specific to someone who also works in the theater-the inhabitants emerge, giving the city its "corpo/reality."

Discussing his collaboration with French director Patrice Chéreau on the film Intimacy, Kureishi comments:

If our age seems "unideological" compared to the period between the mid-sixties and mideighties; if Britain seems pleasantly hedonistic and politically torpid, it might be because politics has moved inside, into the body. The politics of personal relationships, of private need, of gender, marriage, sexuality, the place of children, have replaced that of society, which seems uncontrollable. ("The Two of Us" 4)

This movement of politics from the "outside" to the "inside," well into the body in some cases, permeates many of Kureishi 's works. From his first film, My Beautiful Laundrette, to the novella Intimacy (1998), the need for love and intimacy plays itself out in an "indoors" completely turned away from the public spaces of London's streets, shops, bars, pubs, nightclubs, and apartment blocks. The recurrence of bodies embracing, hands touching, faces gazing intensely into each other's eyes in cramped places-in the backroom of a laundromat, or on the disheveled floor of a sparsely furnished apartment-conveys the desperate need for human intimacy in an otherwise impersonal and often alienating urban environment that has become completely devoid of romance.

The couple in the film Intimacy meets every Wednesday in the man's apartment, an improvised living space that he has just moved into after leaving his wife and children. The couple hardly talks, they just grunt. While the sex scenes are filmed in a highly carnal and erotic fashion, the viewer does begin to feel a change in the tone of the weekly encounters, as the camera pulls back, revealing two people whose physicality conveys what Kureishi himself refers to as "the power of impersonal sexuality. …

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