BERLIN: Romanian experimental filmmaker Adian Pintilie’s debut feature Touch Me Not is probably one of the most unusual films to unspool in the Berlinale main competition this year. The film mixes the fiction and non-fiction genres in a mind bending examination of human intimacy that will leave both critics and audiences divided over whether to love or hate this unusual film.
The filmmaker and her characters venture into a personal research project about intimacy and sex therapy that includes the filmmaker as one of the characters. The sexual exploration of the characters is real and full-frontal nudity as well as plenty of sex abounds although strangely the film never seems exploitative or pornographic. Pintile follows the emotional journeys of Laura, Tómas and Christian, offering a deeply empathic insight into their lives.
We all crave intimacy but at the same time are deeply afraid of it. These characters work to overcome old patterns, defense mechanisms and taboos, to cut the cord and finally be free. There may even be a case for the film having a therapeutic impact on the audience.
The story centres around Adina played by the director who is making a video about sexual and emotional intimacy and who films Laura played by Laura Benson a woman in her 50s who is unable to experience physical sexual pleasure. The camera follows Laura as she watches a male sex worker who she has hired masturbate but she remains unable to engage with him.
Next the camera follows Laura as she tries to engage with Hanna played by Hanna Hoffman a transsexual who mixes the professions of therapist and sex worker. Another attempt is tried with the aptly named sex worker Seani Love who tries to physically stimulate Laura. Pintilie as Adina constantly moves into the film as an actor interviewing Laura about the reasons for her inability to experience sexual pleasure and becoming part of the film.
Other sex therapy sessions involve Christian Bayerlein who is crippled with spinal muscular atrophy which has severely deformed his body. Despite his deformity Christian manages to engage in a very active and enjoyable sex life with his wife Grit played by Uhleman. Pintilie manages to challenge our perceptions of sex and physical attractiveness as we realise that Christian enjoys the pleasure this twisted body brings him despite his physical handicap.
Most of the characters are played by theatre actors although they play their roles so well that we are not quite sure if we are watching non-professionals go through real therapy sessions or actors pretending to do so. Ultimately it is both. Bayerlein gives an extraordinary performance the sets the film apart from the ordinary.
Pintilie allows the camera to film both the sets and at the same time stray into the area of the film crew so once again blurring the line between film actors and film crew. All rules but social and as filmmaking are broken here. The results is an unusual work of filmmaking art that will see much festival play but might be a hard sell indeed for cinemas.
Touch Me Not (Romania, Germany, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, France)
Directed by Adina Pintilie
Cast: Laura Benson, Tómas Lemarquis, Christian Bayerlein, Grit Uhlemann, Hanna Hofmann, Seani Love, Irmena Chichikova, Rainer Steffen, Georgi Naldzhiev, Dirk Lange
Produced by Manekino Film Coproduced by RohFilm Productions, PINK, Agitprop Ltd, Les Films de l'Étranger Supported by the Romanian Film Centre, EURIMAGES, Torino Film Lab, MDM (Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung) Germany, the Bulgarian National Film Center, the Czech Film Fund and Strasbourg Urban Community Sales agent: Doc & Film International