A filmmaker (director-writer Adina Pintilie) and her characters Laura (Laura Benson, ‘Dangerous Liasions), Tómas (Tómas Lemarquis, ‘Blade Runner 2049’) and Christian (Christian Bayerlein) embark on a personal research project about intimacy. Some of the characters fear intimacy, but all of them desire it, and each person will feel a little more enlightened by the end of their respective journeys.

The debut feature from Romanian director and visual artist Adina Pintilie won both the Best First Feature Award and the prestigious Golden Bear at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. Its core theme, absence of narrative and experimental composition make its arthouse intentions clear, but while it’s ideal for film festival goers, it’s unlikely to be as successful with a mainstream audience.

‘Touch Me Not’ opens with a jarring extreme-close-up shot that travels all along a hairy, naked body, showing the male’s penis and nipple in uncomfortably intimate detail. In the next scene, a man takes a shower while Laura asks him questions and then masturbates upon her command.

This is just the beginning of what eventually becomes a two hour long film that involves a lot of nudity and is as cringeworthy as it is fascinating. It is an extremely challenging and uncomfortable watch in its nakedness, which is stripped of all sexuality, leaving people bare as they reveal their inner and outer selves. At one point, the character of Tomas says, “it’s both good and threatening to go into this zone,” and indeed this idea can be applied to the film as a whole.

The conversations between Tomas and Christian provide much food for thought. Christian, who is a wheeler with spinal muscular atrophy, is especially fascinating in his openness about his differently abled body and sex life, and in his inspiring body positivity. The other major story arc follows Laura and recalls ‘The Piano Teacher’ as it sees her explore sexuality and the borders of intimacy (though, obviously, Pintile’s objective here is that the exploration is creative and productive rather than self-destructive and masochistic, as in Michael Haneke’s film). At one point, Laura meets a transsexual character who also provides memorable insight.

The fine line between pain and pleasure is made particularly apparent in the movie’s orgy scenes, which one can’t help but feel seem somewhat gratuitous. Its message seems to be about opening oneself to intimacy and loving yourself, but you’re not entirely sure if that was the point.

It’s hard to give films like these a star rating as they’re personally made and personally interpreted. Does one’s interpretation of a film about intimacy mirror how they feel about intimacy? Why do you feel so uncomfortable right now and why are you left with this sense of emptiness/disgust/confusion/awe? Of course, the inspiration of such questions and provocative wonderings are precisely why it’s been winning awards. So there is that going for it, but at the end of the day, one is hard-pressed to call it an enjoyable film.