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Dr. Henry Harriston is a successful psychoanalyst in New York City. When he is near a nervous breakdown, he arranges to change his flat with Beatrice Saulnier from France for a while. Both don't know each other and both find themselves deeply involved into the social settings of the other, because the decision to change their flats is made overnight. Could be the perfect amusement, but suddenly Henry finds himself beaten up by Beatrice' lover and Beatrice is considered to be Dr. Harriston's substitute by his clients. Written by
In Couch in New York, the first American film by acclaimed Belgian director Chantal Akerman, Dr. Henry Harriston (William Hurt) is a dour New York psychoanalyst who is close to exhaustion. He decides to place an ad in the Paris Herald Tribune offering to swap his New York apartment for a month. Henry ends up in the digs of a free-spirited dancer from Paris, Beatrice Saulnier (Juliet Binoche) and she takes over his swank New York penthouse. Obviously well to do, Henry's apartment is spacious, impeccably furnished, and meticulously cared for, while hers is messy, bohemian, and funky.
In what Ms. Akerman describes as "what Hollywood calls a double fish out of water film", this film is something of a curiosity yet it's one of the best screwball romantic comedies I've seen. The premise is totally ludicrous of course and off the wall but that's what makes it so special. Of course, I'm particularly open to films that pop the bubble of the psychiatric establishment.
Apparently Henry forgets to tell his patients he is going away and they come knocking on Ms. Saulnier's door and calling for appointments, hardly even noticing the change in doctors. Being a sweet and sympathetic soul and not wanting to turn people away, she listens to their stories for an hour and they pay her money for her advice (illegally of course). She learns quickly that all analysts have to say is "yeees" or "hmmmm" or "what comes to mind now?" and get paid big bucks. Of course, patients have the right to remain silent and sometimes nothing comes to mind (they can sometimes spend an hour in total silence and must still pay for the privilege). Ms. Saulnier is an understanding person and a good listener and, in quite a slap at the "professionals", achieves more success with Henry's patients (not to mention his dog Edgar) in one week than he apparently has in years.
Beatrice decides to continue to pretend to be Dr. Harriston's assistant and studies up on her Freud. Meanwhile in Paris, Henry must contend with Beatrice's aggressive boy friends, messy rooms, leaky plumbing and the hammering of a roof being repaired. Fed up with the problems in Paris, he returns to New York to stay with an old friend in a down home part of Brooklyn. Conveniently for the plot, the good doctor stops off at his office and finds Beatrice playing psychoanalyst and his patients miraculously improved. Finding Ms. Saulnier intriguing and attractive, he goes along with her game, pretending to be her patient. This sets off a process of mutual discovery and self-awareness that is quite predictable but nonetheless amusing and enlightening.
This was my first Akerman film and while I realize it is totally unlike her others, I really loved it and found both leads to be superb. Binoche never looked more alluring and Hurt is terrific in his role as the deadpan doctor. I don't know who's crazy, the majority of critics who trashed it or me, but I know for sure one of us is ready for the couch. I won't say any more about Couch in New York except that while it does unfold its magic at a very leisurely pace, the rewards are there for the patient (no pun intended). Since the ending left me with such a warm, fuzzy feeling, I'm thinking of calling Ms. Binoche and.well.on second thought.
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