Those requiring instant gratification may want to avoid films by Claire Denis, including this one. The revered French filmmaker has a cinematic language all her own, and anyone claiming to fully get The Intruder is lying to look cool. It's the kind of movie you can mull over and hypothesize about, but never really "get."
Denis presents The Intruder as a puzzle, and the clues don't come easy. Piece by piece she reveals her characters in a random, meandering fashion, leaving huge gaps in the story and never fully giving a resolution. The enjoyment comes not from a satisfying tale, but rather how writer-director Denis delivers the narrative. The pace can be tedious and the story incoherent, but she keeps the viewer invested with her crisp, picturesque imagery and intriguing and complicated characters.
The film's inspiration comes from French political philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy's novel of the same name that's filled with his musings on his heart transplant. The movie takes a few of the ideas and runs with them, following Louis Trebor (Michel Subor), a rugged recluse who lives quietly in a French mountain town on the Swiss border. The scenery is stunning, shot wide angle in dazzling light.
Louis, in his late 60s, seems robust enough until a brisk and buck-naked swim in a mountain stream leaves him writhing on a riverbank, grasping at the ground.
Louis obviously has health issues, but he also has relationship damage too. His estranged son (Grégoire Colin) has children Louis doesn't know and calls the old man a lunatic; he has a lusty but seemingly unfulfilling affair with a young pharmacist; and he harbors an unrequited fascination with a dog breeder, who won't let him touch her.
From there the movie takes several sudden and sometimes inexplicable turns, often revealing Louis to be cold and self-centered. He visits a bank in Geneva, takes out a large sum of cash and gives it to a Russian woman (Katia Golubeva) to purchase a black-market heart transplant. Whether she's really there or just a dream is unclear, but the Russian woman becomes his conscience, haunting his dreams and stalking him on the rest of his voyage.
We then move to Louis in Asia recovering from the clandestine surgery. He buys a ship and goes to Tahiti where he hopes to give yet another estranged son a large inheritance, presumably screwing over the son back home. But, like his body, which rejects the alien heart that beats inside him, Louis' son is not welcoming.
The beauty of Denis' work is the visual language she uses to develop the characters and the story; dialogue is sparse, and what is said is not always essential. Louis' actions, flashbacks and dream sequences tell the story.
At the same time, it's frustrating. Scenes are silent and long. The camera lingers over scenery for minutes. It's poetry, but not so much in motion. Beautiful shots come off as tedious and irrelevant to the bigger picture.
But the whole isn't really what matters; this movie is best judged by its parts. To enjoy it, you have to be content to know that the questions multiply as the story progresses. Denis alone has the answers, and she's not telling.
In French with English subtitles. Showing at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 27, at the Detroit Film Theatre, inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-3237.
Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.