By Chelsea Phillips-Carr
Somewhere between fiction and documentary, director Adina Pintilie and her characters explore everything that “intimacy” entails in the Golden Bear-winning Touch Me Not. The film centers around Laura (Laura Benson), a woman struggling with intimacy who turns to the personal sexual experiences of a number of marginalized people to learn more about her dilemma. But by expediently lumping together people with disabilities, illnesses, fetishes, and one trans woman into that group, Touch Me Not makes itself clear about what bodies and lifestyles it views as normative.
Viewers can get lost in the segments where individuals discuss their own unique experiences, bringing forth that which is underrepresented in cinema. But Touch Me Not is also too cautiously purposeful: it is meticulously thought out, and constructed, and so the objectifying gaze Pintilie demonstrates for marginalized bodies—who are meant to inspire shock and disturbance—feels completely intentional rather than excusable, well-meaning ignorance in a quest for inclusivity.
A word frequently associated with Touch Me Not, in programme notes and descriptive blurbs, has been “empathy.” But empathy suggests understanding. Pintilie’s film not necessarily mean-spirited, but clearly does not come from a place of understanding. We see it in Laura’s anthropological disconnect from her subjects, as well as her alternating fascination and discomfort. Exploring bodies and intimacy, Touch Me Not is not so much about empathy, but a test of compassion. How close can we get to these people, how much can we relate, and how much can we challenge our own supposed revulsion? In presuming that all audiences feel the same awe at these visceral performances, Pintilie reveals her own narrow perspective.