Touch Me Not: The transgressive sex is not the problem; it’s the lack of humour

Review: Romanian director Adina Pintilie’s Golden Bear-winning film is ‘not for everyone’

Touch me Not
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Director: Adina Pintilie
Cert: Club
Genre: Drama
Starring: Laura Benson, Christian Bayerlein, Tómas Lemarquis
Running Time: 2 hrs 5 mins

At the start of the year, this oddball Romanian something-or-other followed in the footsteps of classics such as 12 Angry Men, Wild Strawberries and A Separation when it took the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. The fuming that followed was unfortunate. The film is (incoming critical cliché alert) "not for everyone", but it's encouraging to see something so brave registering in the upper echelons.

Where to begin? The picture sends Laura (Laura Benson), an English woman troubled by uncertainly defined neuroses, on a journey down various sexual by-ways. She begins by paying a male sex worker to masturbate and then burying her nose in the dampened sheets. (Don't bother the Irish Times letters page about this – I'm just telling you what happens.)

She talks with a trans woman who, when not testing Laura's sexual boundaries, drones on at impressive length about Brahms. We visit conversations between a hairless character (Tómas Lemarquis), rendered thus by alopecia, as he discusses sex and intimacy with a quadriplegic man (Christian Bayerlein) in a space as blaringly white as that in George Lucas's THX 1138.

We can live with the moments of pretension and the outbreaks of wellness-speak

Adina Pintilie, the director, turns up on a screen to be a bit Brechtian and to remind us (in the unlikely event we thought we were watching Crazy Rich Asians) that the film has elements of the documentary about it. The "characters" are all who they say they are. The musings are sincerely intended.


The issue here is not the film’s engagement with potentially transgressive material. Bayerlein’s affectionate description of his own penis as the only part of his body that “functions totally” provides an unexpectedly moving insight into his condition.

We can live with the moments of pretension and the outbreaks of wellness-speak. When a prattling sex counsellor (I think), very much at home to a sensual rush he dubs “whroa!”, asks Laura to hit him, a few unkind viewers may raise their hands to volunteer in her place. But that would just show up a small-mindedness that I definitely don’t – that’s “don’t” – share.

The problem is an almost total lack of humour and a surprising tendency towards sentimentality: the guff about touching someone's soul was almost more than I could bear. No matter. Touch Me Not still counts as a fascinating experience that I never want to go through again.

Opens: October 19th

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist