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L’Intrus, Claire Denis (2004)

The terrifying Michel Subor (most famous as Bruno Forestier in Godard’s Le petit soldat, a character Denis borrowed and enriched for her brilliant Beau travail) makes what would have been a recondite swamp of meandering associations and blind alleys into something of a minor tour de force. Denis, one of my favorite directors of all time, has become slightly taxing lately. I wasn’t wild about Vendredi soir, and Trouble Every Day was unwatchable. The Intruder is something of a return to form, which is encouraging. Subor plays an old man who seems to be in need of a heart transplant. He lives in the Jura, near the French/Swiss border. He’s a jerk to his son, who’s married to a customs officer. He travels to Asia to secure the financial well-being of a missing son he fathered long ago in Tahiti. This son may or may not exist. The son we know is for real may or may not have been murdered in order to harvest his heart for his father’s operation. People flit across borders in the dead of night. A beautiful Russian woman pops up out of nowhere to condemn Subor in a market in Seoul. Shots culled from some old seafaring adventure film are intercut with the scenes of Subor setting up a little Eden for himself in Tahiti. In the title scene, Subor gets out of bed after making perfunctory love to his pharmacist girlfriend, goes downstairs and stabs to death an Arab-looking intruder (shades of Meursault), then calmly washes his knife and climbs back into bed.

In short, we never really know what the hell is going on, but the themes of colonialism, borders, nationalism, fathers and sons, inside and outside, and intrusion are present in nearly every scene, creating a kind of thematic tone poem that’s too long and too portentuous, but occasionally still affecting.

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