Touch Me Not

 

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A Romanian filmmaker offers us a study of sexual issues set in Germany.

 
Touch Me Not
  

Back in February, Poland gave us You Have No Idea How Much I Love You, a deeply insightful film about therapy that still stands as the finest release of 2018. That it functioned on the boundary between fiction and       documentary was not for me problematic in any way at all, but the uncertainties over the true nature of Adina Pintilie's debut feature Touch Me Not are just part of the reason why there was such surprise when it won this year's Golden Bear award at Berlin. Therapy both direct and indirect also plays a major role here and there's no denying that Pintilie, who appears in her own film as herself, has created something very original and personal. But how worthwhile and meaningful it is to the viewer is an open question.

 

The film's title is evidence that the central figure here is Laura (Laura Benson) since she is a middle-aged woman whose dislike of being touched has given her severe sexual hang-ups. Through the internet, she hires men to masturbate in front of her but she also forges a bond with one of them, the transgender Hanna (Hanna Hofmann) who is at ease bodily. However, she also contacts an actual sex therapist (Seani Love) and in the course of the film it emerges rather vaguely and simplistically that both Laura and the filmmaker herself need to come to terms with the inhibiting impact on them of a parent (Laura's father, Adina's mother).

 

But, in addition to this, the hospital setting which features introduces us to a group there who however assembled (the details are vague) go in for a form of touch therapy. Prominent here and partnered for some reason are Tómas (Tómas Lemarquis) and Christian (Christian Bayerlein). If Tómas lost his hair at the age of thirteen and has just broken up with his girlfriend, Christian exemplifies a more extreme case in that he lives with spinal muscular atrophy that has distorted his body (various disabilities are apparent within the group). In Christian's case, fears that Pintilie's film is too intrusive into private concerns are countered by his assertion that he hopes that being seen on screen will enlarge people's understanding. Nevertheless, to show him and others visiting a sex club favouring bondage is a bizarre development and his comment that he goes there to find wisdom in sexual art and discovers a moment of wonder leaves us nonplussed. Perhaps it's all meant as an endorsement of the film's superficial belief that in sexual expression everything is good and in such freedom lies salvation.

 

Even if what was said had greater depth, one would still be left with a work which, doing nothing to give a background context to its figures, has one constantly questioning just how much of Touch Me Not is valid documentary and how much is fabrication (one action taken late on is the very stuff of drama and there is a credit for dialogue coaches). The film looks good and seems heartfelt but, if it's a genuine oddity, it's one that is more puzzling than rewarding. What does linger in the mind is a novel statement in the closing credits: 'Nobody was hurt against their will in the making of this film'.

 

Original title: Nu mă atinge-mă.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Laura Benson, Tómas Lemarquis, Christian Bayerlein, Hanna Hofmann, Seani Love, Grit Uhlemann, Adina Pintilie, Irmena Chichikova, Rainer Steffen, Georgi Naldzhiev, Dirk Lange, Annett Sawallisch.

 

Dir Adina Pintilie, Pro Bianca Oana, Philippe Avril and Adina Pintilie, Screenplay Adina Pintilie, Ph George Chiper-Lillemark, Pro Des Adrian Cristea, Ed Adina Pintilie, Music Ivo Paunov, Costumes Maria Pitea.

 

Manekino Film/Rohfilm Productions/Pink/Agitprop/Les Films de l'Étranger-MUBI.
125 mins. Romania/Germany/Czech Republic/Bulgaria/France/Italy/The Netherlands/ Bosnia and Herzegovina/Greece. 2018. Rel: 19 October 2018. Cert. 18.