‘Touch Me Not’ Review: Our Bodies Examined | Modern Society of USA

‘Touch Me Not’ Review: Our Bodies Examined

‘Touch Me Not’ Review: Our Bodies Examined

“I’ve never told you what this is about,” Adina Pintilie says at the beginning of “Touch Me Not.” The target of the confession is vague; it’s possible to imagine that her words are addressed to a lover, a friend, a parent or the viewer, who will be further challenged to interpret what follows.

Propelled by intuition, emotion and philosophical inquiry rather than by plot, Pintilie’s debut feature is a semidocumentary essay exploring what it means — how it feels, why it matters — to dwell inside a body. You could say that what the film is about lies just beyond the reach of images or words. It’s a necessarily cerebral meditation on the nature of physicality.

The director’s initial verbal reticence contrasts with both the eloquence of some of her characters and subjects and the explicitness of the images she captures. Nakedness and intimacy — the first almost too easy to achieve, the second almost impossibly difficult — are the basic themes of “Touch Me Not.” A handful of people from different countries, some professional actors, some sex workers, talk about their desires, anxieties and inhibitions in ways that are sometimes painfully open and often highly abstract.

The result is a curiously intense, weirdly tranquil experience, at times hard to watch and then hard to shake. Our attention shifts among several characters, two of whom might be called the protagonists: Laura (Laura Benson), a middle-aged woman who seems to struggle with loneliness and erotic alienation; and Tómas (Tómas Lemarquis), a younger man whose malaise may have something to do with the alopecia that has rendered his body hairless. Separately, Laura and Tómas show up at a hospital, where Laura visits a dying man (possibly her father) and Tómas participates in a discussion group for people with disabilities.

His main interlocutor is Christian Bayerlein, a man whose physical challenges limit neither the strength of his libido nor the clarity of his mind, and who becomes a kind of guru figure for Tómas as he tries to ignite his own sexuality. Hanna Hofmann, a transgender sexuality professional, and Seani Love, a therapist of sorts, serve similar functions for Laura. They are guides and sympathetic listeners helping her through her angst and inhibition.

“Touch Me Not,” which won the Berlin Film Festival’s top prize last year, examines the puzzles and paradoxes of sexual pleasure in a spirit of earnest analysis rather than hedonism. Though Pintilie shows a lot — bare bodies in stark isolation against austere backgrounds, and in swirling combination during a visit to a sex club — she battles against the voyeuristic, exploitative implications of her progress. Her film’s title evokes Jesus’ admonition to Mary Magdalene just after his resurrection, words often taken to indicate the radical distinction between body and spirit.

That boundary may be harder for ordinary mortals to locate, partly because the human body itself is such a paradoxical phenomenon. Living inside one is a universal condition, but also one that is notoriously hard to conceptualize or communicate. It’s not only that none of us can truly understand what another’s corporeal existence feels like. But we can also feel like strangers in our own flesh.

“Touch Me Not” offers immersion in that strangeness and invites contemplation of some of the varieties of physical difference. It isn’t comprehensive in this regard — all the bodies on display are white — but the film pushes beyond the standard categories of gender and sexuality to consider age, size, disability and less tangible matters. It also tries, poignantly, to press against the limitations of its own medium, to breach, or at least protest, the impregnable boundary established by the screen itself. We can look, listen, react and think, but we can’t touch.

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