Through her sad characters, Adina Pintilie’s award winning debut feature Touch Me Not has the appearance of self awareness. These characters have the same names as the characters they play and, embodying those characters, have seemingly honest encounters. They also have conversations about past sexual encounters to their present partners, where jealousy doesn’t seem like an issue. This should be a nice launching pad for a deeper perspective but it’s also where things could go wrong. Things seem innocent enough with the protagonist, Laura (Laura Benson), who hires and talks to sex workers and therapists. The one who most prominently appears in this drama is Hanna (Hanna Hofman), who is trans and older than Laura. Outside of her fun time, Laura works at a hospital and eyes one of her coworkers, Tomas (Tomas Lemarquis).
Again, Touch Me Not is either about sexual awakening or a problem where human resources needs to interfere. It’s neither of those things because after its shocking opening scenes and its promises, everything else feels like a letdown. One of opening scenes here, by the way, involve a sex worker (Georgi Naldizhev) masturbating in Laura’s bed. Which, thank you, but it’s as if Pintilie feels like that initial shock counterbalances the rest of her static movie. The other half of the movie shows Laura and Thomas trying to rehabilitate people with different abilities through therapy. The intentions are are noble but they’re facile and ineffective, using words instead of meaningful actions that can heal. There’s also a falseness here, as it equates the sexual brokenness of the staff with the patients’ physical beings.
I can’t speak on behalf of the few minorities that Touch Me Not depicts, including trans and disabled people. There’s fetishism here, but the depiction of the former is not as offensive as the way it handles the latter. What lands this film towards the extremes of the offensive scale is when it depicts the underground BDSM community. These scenes mark the first pops of color in an otherwise sedate film, which yay for its obvious cinematography. What’s worse is that masked or otherwise, none of the participants seem to be having fun with each other. Sure, there’s abuse within that community, or that we’re seeing these acts through experienced eyes over green ones. Nonetheless, audiences deserve a movie where, kinky or vanilla, people are actually happy when they’re in intimate company of others.
Adina Pintilie’s Touch Me Not plays once a night starting on August 23rd, 2019 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.