Sunday, August 28, 2011

119. French director Claire Denis’ “L’intrus” (The Intruder) (2004): Conscience as an intruder

The Intruder begins with an opening quote "Your worst enemies are hiding inside, in the shadows, in your heart."  As the film rolls on you realize this film is not a regular movie that you come across. It has touches of Andrei Tarkovsky, of Terrence Mallick, of Carlos Reygadas’ Silent Light. This writer is pleasantly surprised as this is the first Claire Denis directorial effort (of 10 works to date) that he has watched, though he had seen several works (“Hanna K,” “Paris, Texas,” “The Secret”) on which the lady was the assistant director. The Intruder is definitely a film that makes you think. It is also true that it is a film that would put off the impatient viewer. Yet, it is an important film from France that can mesmerise you. This film of Claire Denis clearly puts her in a league of the finest filmmakers making films today.

The film is interestingly a film about dogs and people who love dogs (it actually begins and ends with dogs). It is a film about love between a father and a son and their inability to manifest it. It is a film that touches on regret for the lack of love in physical relationships. It is a film like a Tarkovsky film (sudden rains) or a Mallick film (sudden gusts of wind) where nature is thrust on the viewer: Denis’ screenplay includes a suggestion to a woman to listen to the “sounds in a forest” as a foreplay bout before copulation, and of images of a woman lost in tall grass even with the aid of binoculars, of the sound of intruders outside a house, of idyllic flowing streams. To many the film would appear disjointed, in the same way a first-time reader of the Nobel Prize-winning James Joyce’s Ulysses, without sufficient introduction to his style of writing (“stream of consciousness,” epiphanies, puns, and metaphors), is likely to wonder what the book is all about.

In the context of books, the film is indeed an idea that director Clair Denis “abducted” (a term from a Denis post-screening press conference) from a book L’intrus by Jean-Luc Nancy which deals with heart transplants, how the body tends to reject a transplanted organ, how they either survive or die. The relationship between the book and the film is as tenuous as the relationship between James Jones’ novel The Thin Red Line and Malick’s movie The Thin Red Line. Denis uses the concept of heart transplant and even shows exaggerated scars of a heart transplant operation—but for Denis one suspects this transplant is a Joycean dream or a metaphor for another malaise—the lack of love or the inability to win it from your progeny.

The lack of love “dogs” (pun intended) you, the viewer, throughout the film. The film begins with a policewoman at an international border with a dog. The woman showers affection on the dog. Her house-husband showers affection and care his wife and twin children. The main character Louis Trebor (Michel Subor) also showers affection on his “twin” dogs. His neighbour is a woman who breeds dogs either as a profession or as a passion and she too expresses love and affection for her canines. This neighbour is finally shown shouting with joy on a sled pulled by dogs at the end of the film.

In sharp contrast to the love showered on dogs there is the lack of love elsewhere in relationships between humans. Louis Trebor gives money to his son in France with a tinge of regret rather than of love. When he sleeps with his female pharmacist friend the script of Denis employs the words “Medication, schemedication” to describe loveless carnal relationship (in fact he kills a man who tries to enter his house between bouts of sex). There is no love between Louis Trebor and his enigmatic female neighbour. There is no love between Trebor and a Tahitian woman (real or imaginary), who has apparently borne his son ages ago and Trebor has never bothered to keep in touch with the woman on his son from that relationship. Finally, Trebor has so many women in his life, but no wife or spouse. What is his puzzling relationship with dog rearing neighbour? Both are interested in each other but also seem to dislike the other. Everything is vague, probably indicating that you are viewing a dream. This is where the viewer has to decide eventually what is real in the film and what is a dream.

The existential aspect of the main character reminds one of Albert Camus’ The Stranger. Who is Trebor? He has several passports that you see him destroy. He can kill silently and has a strong physique. He has made sufficient money from his prior activities stashed away in a Swiss bank with which he can buy a “heart” for himself and a Korean ship for his son.  Trebor, the man who loved his dogs, leaves his dogs behind with sacks of dog-food to fend for themselves, as he goes on the mission to acquire a new “heart”, contact with a lost son, a ship for his existing son. Can the acquisition of  a new heart lead to acquiring love? Is there a connection that Denis alludes to between Trebors love for his twin dogs and Trebor's son's exemplary devotion towards his twin children, while there is hardly an affection between Trebor and his son? The questions are there in the film, never explicitly put, for the viewer to answer.
Denis has made films on the European/African interface that this writer has not yet seen. The viewer begins to wonder if Denis sees Trebor’s, past life in Tahiti (an island in Southern Pacific Polynesia, which the French had colonised) as the life of an intruder in Polynesia. There are several other such possible metaphors of intrusion strewn in the film. There is a male intruder in Trebor’s house who is killed (Trebor is shown cleaning blood from a knife). There are immigrants who cross the Swiss/French border. One cannot put a finger on who is the main intruder in this film. Most probably the intruder is in Trebor’s heart, physical and/or metaphorical, as stated in the opening quote.

Like the works of Tarkovsky and Mallick, the visuals (cinematographer Agnes Godard, a regular collaborator with Denis on many of her films) and the guitar and trumpet music of Stuart Staples (of the musical group called Tindersticks) play a major part in the film. Without their contribution Denis’ work would seem pedestrian. Agnes Godard and Denis have long magical sequences of the sea as seen from ship’s window (reminds you of Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky’s final shots of Shy People with the late actress Jill Clayburgh looking out of the window of her aircraft at the dark skyline).

Without any doubt, Claire Denis joins the likes of Terrence Mallick, Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky, Andrei Zvyagintsev, Carlos Reygadas, Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, and Nuri Bilge Ceylan as filmmakers who are currently making films that redefine the grammar of contemporary cinema for the intelligent, perceptive and patient viewer. It is the appreciation of films like these that make the application of concepts provided in Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Judgement a pleasure for the astute viewer.

P.S. Two films mentioned above, Mallick's The Thin Red Line and Reygadas' Silent Light, have been reviewed earlier on this blog.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Claire Denis is one of the new generation French film directors a part from Laurent Cantet. I strongly advise White Material-2009 with Isabelle Huppert.

Sancar Seckiner