THE INTRUDER (Claire Denis, 2004)

Inspired by Jean-Luc Nancy’s novel L’Intrus, Claire Denis’s same-titled film includes two of her most moving moments. One shows Sidney Trebor (Grégoire Colin, wonderful), a young father carrying his infant, Louis, in a sling-harness against his heart. Louis looks up at his father’s face. Slowly the child smiles, and we understand, even though Sidney’s face is outside the frame, that the infant is following his father’s lead in expressing love. Sidney’s father, Louis, from whom Sidney is estranged, later buys a heart on the post-Soviet Russian black market as a surgical replacement for his own. After intermediate stops, Louis ends up in Tahiti looking for another son. A village panel indulges Louis’s fantasy of leaving a wad of bills to whomever and conducts interviews to select a fitting “son” for him. (The scene parodies a casting session!) Before he expires (or, given the film’s dream fabric, perhaps when or after), Louis imagines seeing Sidney cold dead in a Tahitian morgue. Sidney’s chest shows the surgical scar that by now has faded from Louis’s own body. How does one enter into the mystery of this moment without dissolving into tears?
     The woman who arranged for Louis’s heart shadows him; perhaps she is his guilty conscience. On a dark street Louis cries out at her to leave him alone. “I have a sick heart!” She shoots back: “Not anymore! Your heart is just empty.”
     Or so full, needing emptying out.
     Denis’s film, strange, elusive, very quiet, dreamlike, begins at the border between France and Switzerland but mostly navigates the border between the love one feels and the love one cannot express. Louis’s journey home in a coffin, the sea rolling underneath an immense gray and charcoal sky (except for a patch of eerie light), catches a remarkable chill.

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One thought on “THE INTRUDER (Claire Denis, 2004)

  1. This is a great film, existing more in moments and moods than in the overall, rather hazy narrative. It’s incorrect to say the film is based on a novel though. Jean-Luc Nancy’s L’intrus is a short essay that starts as a rumination on the author’s recent heart transplant, and uses this event as a jumping-off point to write about the idea of “the intruder” in general. Among the themes and ideas that Nancy packs into a short space with his dense style are the alienation of self-identity in relation to scientific and medical advances, the loneliness of the world traveler or the immigrant in a strange society, and the question of what constitutes the self if it’s not the physical body. The essay is excellent and anyone who enjoys the film should really check it out. The way Denis takes this rather abstract philosophical piece and constructs a loose narrative around it, visualizing Nancy’s ideas, is quite fascinating.

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