Jean Cocteau's first English language movie has had its title routinely sexified from Les Parents Terribles to Intimate Relations, but current visitors to the Beacon Hill will be glad to find that Cocteau, no matter what title he uses, well merits his reputation for unorthodox screenplay.
Speaking colloquially, one might describe the story of intimate relations as "incredible." (As matter of fact the movie's five characters, who speak extremely colloquially, themselves describe it with just that word at least twenty times during the evening.) Basically, the plot resembles the eternal loves triangle. Cocteau's imagination is such, however, that in this case the such, however, that in this case the triangle turns out to be a pentagon, and at one point the principals even try to straighten things out by introducing another, imaginary person as a sixth vertex.
Involved in the mix-up are a possessive mother, Yvonne, who in true Freudian fashion does not want her 22-year-old son to marry; her sister Claire, who has always been in loves with George, Yvonne's husband; George and Yvonne; and a young woman named Madeleine, whom Michael wants to marry but who, it turns out, has also been loved by Michael's father, George. Now such a situation would, without doubt, wreak confusion in even the most rational of families. When you consider, then, that at least two of Cocteau's characters are not only irrational but neurotic, you may get some idea of the frantic tone of this movie.
It is this constant frenzy, in fact, that constitutes the main fault of Intimate Relations. Director Charles frank has insisted on playing every scene as wildly and loudly as possible, and has provided only7 a few calmer moments for an accentuating contrast.
The actors can maintain his fevered pace, of course, because they can rest between scenes in filming the picture; but the audience, having no intermissions, cannot. Thus while the cast rush through the script at the top of their voices, the audience, though laughing at the frenetic lines, becomes somewhat less interested in the dramatic and psychological aspects of the story.
Aside from this defect, Cocteau has clevery combined realistic passions and humorous dialogue. His characters, hysterical as they are, manage to remain credible and funny at the same time. Their humor derives principally from the ancient method of dramatic irony-as when Madelaine tells Michael, "I was as found of George as I shall be of your father," and only the audience knows that George is Michael's father; and partly also from a simple exaggeration of emotions, as in the opening scene, when Yvonne's possessiveness and then Michael's naivete combine in a virtual parody of the Oedipus complex.
Such enlightened over-acting is, of course, quite difficult, and in general the cast does very well at it. Particularly convincing are Marion Spencer as the neurotic mother and Russell Enoch as her son. The latter looks very much like F. Scott Fitzgerald and plays the prep-school-boy-in-love type with just the right kind of awkwardness.
Intimate Relations has unfortunately lost some of its dramatic power through over-zealous direction. By the time of the final suicide, for example, the audience's emotions are too exhausted to be affected much one way or the other. But on the whole Cocteau has written a strong, imaginative, and enjoyable movie-one that get closer than most to the real motivations of the people it portrays.