The Intruder (2004) *** ½
Directed by: Claire Denis.
Written by: Claire Denis & Jean-Pol Fargeau based on the book by Jean-Luc Nancy.
Starring: Michel Subor (Louis Trebor), Grégoire Colin (Sidney), Yekaterina Golubeva (Young Russian Woman), Bambou (Pharmacist), Florence Loiret Caille (Antoinette), Lolita Chammah (The Wild Woman), Alex Descas (The Priest), Dong-ho Kim (Ship Owner), Se-tak Chang (Ship Owner's Associate), Hong-suk Park (Man at the Fish Market), Edwin Alin (Le patron de la quincaillerie), Henri Tetainanuarii (Henri), Jean-Marc Teriipaia (Tony), Anna Tetuaveroa (The Mother), Béatrice Dalle (Queen of the Northern Hemisphere).
Claire Denis demands a lot from her audiences. She does not make films that are cut and dried, linear or even narratively clear. You have to do the work to get what you should from a film by Denis, because often times, her visuals take over her storyline. The Intruder is clearly her most enigmatic film – the one that requires the most work on the audience’s part. If you go in seeking narrative cohesion, you will be disappointed. The Intruder is a film that mixes the main characters real life with his subconscious – often without letting you know which is which.
The film centers of Louis Trebor (Michel Subor), an aging man living alone with his two big, white dogs in the mountains near the France-Switzerland border. He has a heart problem, and ends up buying a heart on the black market from a young Russian woman, who will stalk him for the rest of the film – at least in his mind. He then heads to
, buys a boat and sets sail for Korea Tahiti, where he once lived and fathered a son that he wants to reconnect with. That he has another son, living close by his house in that he completely ignores, doesn’t factor into his decision. France
This is what happens in the film, but it doesn’t explain the effect that the film has. The film is made up of images, more than words, and some of the images are haunting – a heart being torn apart by dogs, the beauty of the mountains along the border, the sky that is both beautiful and ominous in
Tahiti, etc. Denis is a visual storyteller, and her film is one that you have to give yourself over to, and flow along with the images, because if you fight it, than more than likely you’ll end confused and frustrated.
But the title of the movie is surely apt. The film is about intrusion in many different ways. The heart is an intruder into Louis’ body – and an unwelcome one at that as slowly his body starts to reject it. But Louis is also an intruder into the natural world, and into the culture of
Tahiti – and is also unwelcome. The tribe in Tahiti that Louis goes to find his son holds auditions among the young men in their tribe to find a suitable son for Louis – they don’t care about him, they just want the money. But Louis is a character it is impossible to feel for – the way he ignores the son living close by, his cold demeanor with a pharmacist he sleeps with, the way he tries to pick up a local dog breeder, who correctly tells him he is crazy – even the way when he cannot find anyone to look after his dogs, he simply abandons them and drives away. Played by Godard veteran Subor, Louis is a violent loner, whose screen presence is precisely what is needed in the film, as he creates a haunting, enigmatic presence at its heart.
The Intruder is one of the those films that people are either going to love or hate. I really cannot argue with people who do not like it – who consider it too slow or too confusing, because the film is slow. It is confusing. But being confusing is not the same thing as being confused – Denis’ purpose from the outset of the movie is clear. The opening scenes are mesmerizing, and show the hypocrisy of the people like Louis – afraid of the invading hordes from down south, Louis and everyone around him gets big fences and big dogs to keep them out, and yet at the same time feel that down South somewhere on an island is paradise. That the film takes place on the France-Switzerland border is really beside the point – it could be any border, anywhere.
Ultimately, Denis has crafted a challenging film with The Intruder – one that many audiences will reject outright, but for the adventuresome filmgoer, the film is a must see. If I feel that the film isn’t quite Denis’ best (and I still have quite a few of her films to see, including her acknowledged masterpiece Beau Travail), it is because to me, as mesmerizing and beautiful as the film is, as complex and challenging, it remains more of a intellectual exercise than a film unto itself. Sometimes those work, as is the case with The Intruder, but often they don’t make for the most satisfying movies.