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Thread: L'INTRUS / THE INTRUDER (Claire Denis 2004) now available on

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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    L'INTRUS / THE INTRUDER (Claire Denis 2004) now available on



    Terminal odyssey

    Before L'Intrus ("The Intruder") I'd seen other Denis films only at home on video, and with this one, seen in an American movie theater (and I remember the room and how I sat, leaning forward), powerful, vivid, gripping, and totally puzzling, I went from intrigued to permanently hooked. Like Arnaud des Pallières' Adieu of the year before, also a memorable experience of intoxicating mystification, watched at MK2 Beaubourg in Paris, L'Intrus chooses showing over telling in a literal way. Not only is dialogue sparse but all forms of explanation. All is dominated by an intense physicality, enhanced by the director's startling boldness, the handsome work of her gifted cinematographer, Agnès Godard, and the haunting percussive sounds of her frequent score-providers, the British group Tindersticks.

    Denis' film grew out of reading Jean-Luc Nancy's 2002 eponymous philosophical essay (I've found a translation into English; it's short; you can read it here.) She met and discussed the theme with Nancy in public both before and after release of the film. Nancy had had a heart transplant. He also had had a cancer diagnosis, and he had to live with both and with a body in multiple ways not quite his own.

    Themes start to emerge clearer toward the end of the longish film but all the way through it's notable for that intense physicality. Look at how the 69-year-old Louis Trebor (Michel Butor, a glamorous, glittering lizard of a man)) swims, basks in the sun, lies embracing his pair of blond husky dogs, has a severe attack of chest pains that leaves him clawing the wet sand in pain. See him go on defiantly to ride a bike energetically in the sun, make love to a woman, the local pharmacist (Bambou) in the evening, spar with "La reine de l'hémisphère nord" (the wild, gap-toothed Béatrice Dalle of Betty Blue) and her pen of sled dogs. At night, lying with his lover, see him slip out and, his fine hunting knife fast as a lizard's tongue, coolly slit an unknown intruder's throat. Watch how Sidney, ( Grégoire Colin, the tall hunk from Beau travail and multiple other Denis films) neatly and playfully 'seduces' his young wife (Florence Loiret-Caille). She's a road customs border guard with another dog, a sniffing one, and Sidney is a house husband raising their two infants. He is Louis' estranged son who asks him for aid out in town and gets scorned and fobbed off with a small wad of cash. Later watch Alex Descas, another Denis regular, notably in her wonderful next feature 35 Shots of Rum, as an unusually handsome and suave priest. Denis likes handsome, sexy men.

    All this is intense and real but how it fits together we don't know and never really quite will. But Denis creates and rides away with a strong central character, one of cinema's most attractive monsters, in Michel Subor's Louis - who isn't outwardly anything like the philosopher from Strasbourg whose experience all this was spun from. He is rich and ruthless, an entrepreneur of hidden global sweep who uses his money (some of it gathered into a bag at a Swiss bank) to buy an illicit heart transplant and then only to try to give it all away. But, old sensualist that he is, before he leaves Switzerland he first buys a gorgeous and very expensive gold watch for himself, because it looks good on his suntanned wrist. Louis is haunted and driven. He is pursued mysteriously by a strange Russian woman (Katia Golubeva) who keeps turning up for the rest of the film, a warning of Louis' many ill deeds and the inevitability of the demise he's trying to buy and dare his way out of.

    Of course if there are illegal organ dealings those in hearts must be the most illegal and the most expensive and Louis goes to Asia for his, insisting on a vigorous young man's heart. Denis delivers a seamless succession of exotic, utterly untouristy scenes in global locations from the Alps to Korea to Tahiti, and we remember she went to primary school "au Cameroun, en Somalie, au Burkina Faso et à Djibouti," growing up the daughter of a French colonial administrator, so exotic places come naturally to her to the age of twelve.

    These many locations are, however, symbolic of Louis' growing alienation from himself. He begins a sensualist grabbing life by the horns, intensely alive even though he may actually be not so long for this life. His self-sufficiency impresses. He's one of the sexiest, most glamorous and mysterious of silver foxes, but he's lonely. And though he scorns Sidney, he wanders the South Pacific looking for another son to give all his wealth to, a son his mother says doesn't want it and doesn't want to see him. Then malaise overtakes him. This hard hearted man and his new heart are at odds.

    There are somewhat strange comings and goings then. Unfortunately, viewing this film courtesy of Metrograph Pictures at home, typically in such circumstances I wound up not watching it all at once, but divided into halves, the first one evening, the rest the next day. A movie that's an experience as intense as this one should be seen in a theater on a big screen all at one go. L'Intrus is also best the first time, knowing nothing about it, intensely, pleasantly mystified. Though this film's gorgeous sensuality is cloying by the end, that's also the point: the "intruder", whether Louis in the world or his alien heart in his body, can't keep it down, can't keep it in: it's all too much, and yet was never enough - searching for something never found.

    One can't encompass the wild mysteries of this movie in a short review or appreciation; a book could easily, pleasantly be written about it. In his just and knowing early review Stephen Holden of the New York Times called it a "magnificent enigma"; Dennis Lim in the Voice called it "poetic and primal," "as thrilling as it is initially baffling." Maybe finally baffling too: Scott Foundas wisely wrote that it was designed to be "felt rather than rationalized." We must not spoil it by too much taking apart and explaining. It's typical of Claire Denis very often to bypass rational explanation and to draw us to the physicality of people and places for which she has such a special and precious sense.

    L'Intrus takes me back to my joy in movies as a child and young teenager, when I intensely felt them and was dazzled and absorbed wordlessly into them. I could tell what happens - that's fun too; but the most fun was being unable to speak, bursting with images and emotions beyond words and throbbing inside for hours or days. That's cinema. Claire Denis is one of the great ones and this one of her best. It's one example of a wildly varied and adventurous œuvre, and it it's your first taste of that, lucky you.

    L'Intrus/The Intruder, 130 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2004, showing afterward at Toronto, Pusan, San Francisco, and other festivals, opening theatrically Dec. 23, 2005 in New York City. This revival opens exclusively at on Fri., Mar. 26, 2021.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-26-2021 at 02:38 AM.


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