Inviting the inevitable comparisons to Last Tango In Paris and last year's superb An Affair Of Love, Patrice Chéreau's Intimacy centers on a sexual arrangement that occurs at the same time and place every week, without names and with little fanfare. In terms of explicitness, Intimacy goes further than either of the others—An Affair Of Love is so coy, it leaves most of the sex to the imagination—but not always to great effect. Set in the dank basement of a flat in perpetually overcast London, with paint chipping off the walls and a blanket laid out over a ratty sliver of carpet, the sex scenes are meant to defy the glossy choreography that passes for eroticism in most films. Using handheld cameras and dim, unflattering lighting, Chéreau creates an atmosphere of overly determined grunge that detracts from the raw intensity of the performances, as if he didn't trust his actors to convey enough emotion on their own. Fortunately, he's bailed out by Mark Rylance and Kerry Fox, who don't betray a hint of self-consciousness about their uncomfortable situation, and who lose themselves in roles that leave them exposed in more ways than one. Based on a pair of short stories by Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette), Intimacy opens with the first of several Wednesday-afternoon rendezvous at Rylance's apartment. As with Last Tango and An Affair Of Love, Rylance and Fox are emotionally disconnected and intend to keep it that way, but their physical relationship has an unhealthy fervor to it, as if they're trying to escape the world by burrowing into each other's bodies. Inevitably, Rylance grows more interested in Fox and follows her through the paces of her regular life, where he discovers that she's married to an oafish cab driver (the always-terrific Timothy Spall) and pursues acting in her free time. When Rylance becomes a regular at one of her plays, a production of The Glass Menagerie staged near the toilets at a local pub, Fox's husband grows suspicious. For obvious reasons, the sex scenes in Intimacy are bound to draw the most attention, but the film works best when it plumbs the murky depths of self-loathing and suffocation that brought this pair together in the first place. Chéreau's previous feature, Those Who Love Me Can Take The Train, was an ensemble piece with a clutter of passengers, which may explain why he's so adept at sketching characters without rounding off their rough edges. Rather than one single motivation driving Rylance and Fox to seek each other out, there's a messy set of circumstances that seems utterly convincing, even when the sex scenes occasionally mistake Cassavetes realism for actual realism. By now, the no-strings-attached scenario may have lost its novelty (does anyone still remember this year's The Center Of The World?), but Intimacy provides more than enough detail to compensate.