Claire Denis doesn’t rush. Her films are slow, thoughtful and brooding pieces about humanity – or the lack of it. The choice of long, lingering shots in L’INTRUS (THE INTRUDER) is understandable. When shooting on 35mm film in such gloriously beautiful places as the Jura Mountains and Tahiti, the audience wants to feel part of the action, to feel the breeze in their hair or the sand in between their toes. And they do. But this unhurried stroll to the end of the film can have its down sides as well: perhaps too leisurely in its approach to the plot, the film can drag.
The film stars the always brilliant Michel Subor as Louis, whose stuggles we follow as he endures debilitating health and a black market heart transplant before emigrating to Tahiti, to reconcile with his estranged son. Denis lets the camera glide from one jungle to another: one natural, one constructed by man. It’s a sharp dichotomy of nature and assembly. Louis is first seen at his home in the mountains: he lives alone, visited only by his lover, a woman who runs the local pharmacy. One night, Louis murders an intruder in his house. The reality of the events we see on the screen is blurred: Denis works as some sort of unreliable narrator throughout the film, obscuring the audience from making full sense of the events on screen. Was what we just saw a dream, or reality? It can never be too certain.
Louis leaves his home, searching for his son across the sun bleached island of Tahiti. On returning to his ex-lover’s house, he is met with a frosty response, and there is no sign of his son. It appears that he wants nothing to do with his father. Local boys are hired at a court-like hearing, in the hope that one of them will resemble the boy; and the film steps away from Louis’ pursuit of health to follow his attempts at redemption.
Although at 130 minutes long, L’INTRUS can go more slowly than a tired snail, it’s gloriously touching and mesmeric. Although the intense exploration of the human condition can be heavy for some people, the film gets much more right than wrong. Agnes Godard shoots the snowy scenes like a fantasy, watching Louis drift from one place to the next – and the sunny scenes bask in a gorgeous yellow glow that can be felt from the seats of the cinema. L’INTRUS is a triumph; that rare film that puts you through so much that when the screen fades to black you won’t know whether to laugh, cry, or both.