Romanian director Adina Pintilie's debut TOUCH ME NOT has become a byword for bold cinema - that which takes not only genres but also viewers out of the comfort zone. The film co-produced by "Agitprop" with the participation of Irmena Chichikova in one of the roles won the "Golden Bear" in Berlin last year, but still continues to divide critics and audiences with its unconventional approach to the study of intimacy. The film, which caused some to applaud wildly and others to not even make it to the very end, is a challenge even when it has to be described without having seen it - it does not fit into a traditional film format, which is why many have called it essay. Why and how Pintilie decided to embark and personally participate in the mission to discover the myriad ways in which people connect, discover or push their comfort limits, we talk to her.
Your film "Touch Me Not" is an in-depth study on sensitive topics which we rarely talk about. What made you talk about them?
It started from the premise - which I'm also mentioning at one point in the film - that when I was 20 I thought I knew everything about intimacy, how relationships work, about eroticism, beauty, body; Today, after years of trials and tribulations, all those ideas, which used to be so clear back then, seem to have lost their definition and grown more complex and unsettlingly contradictory. TOUCH ME NOT was triggered by this self-reflective process. It started with this intention to un-learn everything I've been taught about intimacy, - by family, society, education - and to re-discover, with open eyes, how people really relate to each other, how they really live this often so difficult and full of contradictions experience of intimacy.
When does intimacy from a personal become a public question?
My intention – and this is the reason why it was necessary that I appear in the movie as well, because I am part of this quest together with the protagonists – was to discover things, to liberate ourselves from the ideas built into us by our family, society, education, and to discover with openness how people truly relate to each other. It has been a process of re-learning intimacy for all of us. Inevitably, when you start to explore the real world, reality reveals itself in all its complexity and diversity, which is so different from our normative fictions. I did not think in terms of categories before, either. The norm is decided by a majority. And yet there are ways of relating which are different from this majority and which are just as valid. The movie explores life as it is, it's a process of discovery. And the difference from the norm is just as ‘normal’ as any norm.
What was the toughest question that came to your mind while working on this project and did you find an answer to it?
As children learn to walk and to become separate human beings, making their way into the life adventure, so the characters of TOUCH ME NOT start to gradually move away from the past, going through a difficult, yet liberating process of ‘cutting their umbilical cord’,to become free and finally be able to meet and possibly love the Other as he/she really is, not their distorted image of him/her.
Intimacy, human nudity, sexuality and desires still seem to be taboo? Which are the biggest taboos that provoked you?
I will quote a short fragment from a very relevant article that Seani Love (one of the protagonists) published on his website, called Counscious Kink Saves The World: "Times are changing. We are entering a new phase where we as a species are gaining greater understanding of the sexual impulses we have. Kinks aren’t seen as disfunctional traits anymore but increasingly as enriching and healthy aspects of normal peoples’ sex lives. If we attempt to consciously explore our sexual fantasies, we are exploring a part of our subconscious minds and thus we are gaining personal insights, self-knowledge and wisdom about our own journeys through our world. We are bringing the subconscious processing into the conscious mind for understanding, for exploring and for gaining greater self-awareness". Seani is working in a direction often explored in today’s psychoanalysis. For instance, one of the books we have all studied during the film process is Arousal, by American psychoanalyst Michael Bader, which talks about the fact that the way you are acting, feeling, thinking in sexual and intimate situations offers a key to your subconscious. And if you manage to look at yourself with honesty and openness and not automatically judge yourself as being ‘abnormal’ or ‘deviant’ - in case you happen to have a way of living intimacy and sexuality that is different from what is generally considered ‘normal’, - you have a very good chance to discover profound aspects about yourself, to understand and find solutions to conflicts and problematic dynamics, not just those related to intimacy, but also to other areas of your life, family, profession etc.
Why body is still such a powerful source of shame and prejudice?
In our day-to-day encounters, power relationships appear, problems of intolerance and judging the others emerge, and so does negative labelling. It so often happens that people are judged just because they have a different body or a different orientation, or a different vision of the world. Еspecially in today’s world, there is so much aggression, so many negative emotions that lead to conflict and discrimination. I think Touch Me Not is a very necessary movie and do believe that by going inside yourself, you can change things at community level.
Does difference repel?
The film has been conceived, from the very beginning, as a dialogue with the viewer, on the fluid border between reality and fiction, where the fourth wall is fluid and the camera, the filming process is an organic part of the experience, functioning as a communication channel permanently open between the viewer and the protagonists. It's been a challenge to find the right language in this respect. Because the ways in which we usually read cinema are so well ingrained into our perception, that no matter what you look at, be it 'fiction' or 'documentary', you enter this convention, the so-called 'suspension of disbelief' you separate from yourself and enter into the story bubble on screen. You go to a different world, separate from yourself, your body, your life. Or for me it was essential that this separation doesn’t take place in TOUCH ME NOT. On the contrary, it was very important that you, the viewer, are permanently in direct emotional contact with the reality on screen, that the communication channel between your body and the movie is permanently open. That you are constantly aware you are in a movie which, through the camera, through the filmmakers' unavoidably subjective eye, offers you a privileged access to the intimate life of these people, who want to engage in a direct dialogue with you.
I believe this kind of dialogue makes the film function as a mirror in which you, the viewer can see yourself, you can glimpse some of your own possibilities that haven’t maybe crossed your mind or you might be afraid to accept. It prompts a self-reflective process which is not always comfortable. It makes you aware of your own responses. That's why the film often triggers in people strong and unexpected emotional reactions, which are at the same time very subjective, different from one human being to the other.