By Rob Blackwelder
Getting past the contrivance of "Intimate Strangers" may take a while. The idea that a woman could wander into a tax accountant's office thinking he was a shrink and the fellow would play along for weeks on end sounds less like a French drama and more like a lowbrow stalker-thriller or a bad Kate Hudson comedy. But the performances of Sandrine Bonnaire ("East-West") and Fabrice Luchini ("Beaumarchais the Scoundrel") as the very vulnerable, middle-aged, modestly sexy, miserable-housewife patient and her malleable, mild-mannered, dejectedly divorced confidant make it worth soldiering past many obvious doubts (how hard is it to say, "You're in the wrong office"?) to find out what happens.
A pair of psychologically befuddled misfits, they find solace in each other's company and begin affecting each other's lives, sometimes for the better (she gains confidence to confront her husband), sometimes for the worse (he begins hustling his real clients out the door when she turns up unexpectedly). Director Patrice Leconte ("Ridicule," "Girl On the Bridge") revels in the nuances of these characters and somehow holds the absurdity of the situation at bay, in part with the aid of a tense, emotionally charged score (by Pascal Estéve). The film never earns complete suspension of disbelief -- in fact it's full of reminders of just how improbable its plot really is. But the authenticity of the actors and Leconte's deft finenessing of circumstance and sentiment bridge the inherent skepticism with an absorbingly honest humanity.
**1/2 out of ****
(105m | R)