Review of Touch Me Not (2018): Within Reach - Romanian Director Adina Pintilie’s Film Wins the Gold Bear
By Edith Ottschofski, republished here with her gracious consent
Translation by Christina Schultz
The camera slowly moves over a sleeping body, revealing everything from the dark body hairs to the exposed male member. Right from the beginning, Romanian director Adina Pintilie clearly wants to make the statement that prudery has no place in her film. The young director’s feature length film debut Touch Me Not/Nu mă atinge-mă won the Golden Bear at the 68th Berlinale [in February 2018]. Reactions from the press ranged from praise for its pioneering experimental style that floats between fiction and documentary to damning reviews.
The Romanian-Czech-Bulgarian-French co-production - with actors and laypersons that hail from Great Britain and Australia - was filmed in English with occasional German. It is an appropriately global film in today’s day and age. In 2013, Călin Peter Netzer was the first Romanian director to the win the Golden Bear with Child’s Pose/Poziția Copilului.
People dressed in white sit across from one another in a white room; at the edge of the room, people dressed in black crouch on the floor. A calm, solemn voice gives the people dressed in white instructions on how to touch each other. The people dressed in black sitting on the floor observe. The focus is on a bald-headed young man (Tómas Lemarquis); he is supposed to touch his partner’s face, a young man with long hair (Christian Bayerlein) who cannot move his arms or legs. As the camera gradually reveals his [partner’s] face with beaming, expectant eyes, the hint of a smile, protruding teeth and traces of drool, the viewer is embarrassed by this indiscretion. Tomas carefully follows the instructions and only later can we see him oppressed by this burden. The face is too intimate for him to let someone get close, but that is exactly what this film is about.
The director researched physical intimacy over the course of seven years. One of the main characters, Laura Benson, a woman in her mid-fifties, does not allow anyone to get close to her and tries to overcome this in various ways: in therapy sessions; with a call boy whom she watches masturbate; and with Hanna, a transvestite and music lover. At the same time she visits a person in need of care (possibly her father), and her austere look betrays that this is hard for her to deal with. In the second narrative thread, the bald Tomas explains how he lost his hair at the age of 13 and how his life changed. At one point in the film, he lands in a BDSM club where he meets another character who is not averse to unusual sex practices. The most thoughtful statements are made by the disabled Christian, who does not like to be called by his name, as he speaks openly and candidly about his shortcomings, but also about his fulfilling sex life with Grit, putting many an able-bodied person to shame by being thankful for his body.
Reflected in an awkwardly mounted glass in front of the camera, the questioning director appears every now and then and thematizes the creative process on a meta level in which she speaks with an absent person (her husband?). One time she is pushed in front of the camera by the main actress, and, close to tears, reveals her fragility. Thus she opens up her innermost self, just as she demands of her characters. The tangibly close, deeply human subject moves the viewer, especially because it is portrayed so bluntly but without compromising the characters and one is unsure whether it is scripted fiction or reality. Nevertheless, based on the director’s interventions alone, it is clearly an art film.
Audio tracks consisting partially of screams or loud music tracks underline the severity and seriousness of the film. I wonder if the film would have benefitted from a bit more humor. Instead there are some involuntary funny scenes. The film is still worth watching, not least because it sounds out the border between normalcy and the unconscious mind and gets one to think.
Link to Edith Ottschofski’s original text in German: