Tuesday, November 04, 2008


2004, France, directed by Claire Denis

While Claire Denis' films are frequently more focused on the careful creation of mood and atmosphere than they are on narrative, L'Intrus is unusually elliptical, moving between past and present, imagination and reality, in ways that can make it difficult to tell how particular fragments of the film relate to each other. Denis also chooses to underplay moments that might seem important in a more conventional narrative: an act of violence in this film happens with so little forewarning, and so quickly, that the viewer is caught completely off guard, and needs to re-evaluate what seems essential.

It's not that Denis' film doesn't have a narrative structure - you could probably boil it down to a one-liner that would satisfy even a Hollywood executive from The Player, though he might find it lacked action - but rather that you're never quite sure where in the progression you are. It's a little like dealing with a length of string that has been chopped up and reassembled - but without all of the original pieces, and with some segments deliberately transposed.

In parts, the film reminded me of the intense, absorbing films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul: one sequence recalls the forest scenery of Weerasethakul's Blissfully Yours, in which the characters wordlessly revel in the sensations of the woodland setting. Indeed, words are at a premium throughout: the central character, Louis Trebor (played by Michel Subor), prefers action to speech, mostly choosing to keep silent. At times, his brooding presence recalls his near-contemporary Philippe Nahon, though Nahon's best-known roles, in Gaspar Noé's films, involve a torrent of (voiceover) commentary. Denis uses sound and its absence as essential elements of her film's texture, with the human silences contrasted by both the repeated themes of Stuart Staples' music and the multitude of ambient noises that are amplified to create a rich soundscape (the sound editing in many of Denis' films is remarkable).

The film is structured around a journey, albeit one which is as much metaphorical as real, a journey deep into the self, and an exploration of one man's deepest motivations. His thought-processes jump from one period of his life to another - there are some carefully tinted sequences that evoke him as a younger man in the Pacific - but also unstitch the scars that mark his life, as he attempts to understand his connections with those around him. While his ultimate destination, in Tahiti, obviously evokes the journeys of Paul Gauguin, seeking something authentic in the Pacific that he was unable to find in France, there's also an aspect of Christopher McCandless to Louis's behaviour, with caution thrown to the wind.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States