Jay, a failed musician, walked out of his family and now earns a living as head bartender in a trendy London pub. Every Wednesday afternoon a woman comes to his house for graphic, almost wordless, sex. One day Jay follows her and finds out about the rest of her life (and that her name is Claire). This eventually disrupts their relationship.

The performances are courageous and remarkably good; but in the end we are left with nothing.

The film begins as a film about Jay, Mark Rylance, a forty year old who’s left his marriage and two children in a fit of middle-aged angst. Every Wednesday he’s visited in his seedy basement flat by a woman whose name he doesn’t know, Kerry Fox, where they indulge in wordless sex. It’s almost a clich? to find that he becomes obsessed by the woman, and follows her to a pub where she performs in amateur theatre and where Jay meets her husband Andy, Timothy Spall, and young son. But this film by French director Patrice Chereau avoids cliche mainly by the characters he creates and by the performances.

Based on works by Hanif Kureishi – the novella Intimacy and short story Night Light – the former seen as a controversial justification by Kureishi for abandoning his own marriage for the sake of art – Chereau has managed to shift the balance so that Kerry Fox’s character Claire has a life, a substance as she seeks significance for herself. But still it’s Mark Rylance’s performance that haunts you as epitomysing the lost soul of fortyish males, who want their youth, think they want sex and freedom, that rare connection with a woman that has meaning.

The sex scenes are explicit but totally non pornographic, they’re painful, needy, unsatisfying except on an orgasmic level. They’re part of the text of this very fine film. And Kerry Fox is sensational.