Claire Denis

(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

, /10

Claire Denis (France, 1948)

Chocolat (1988)

No Fear No Die (1990)

I Can't Sleep (1994)

Nenette et Boni (1996)

Beau Travail (1999), about the French Legionnaires, with Agned Godard's cinematography,

Trouble Every Day (2001), about the sex lives of vampires

Vendredi Soir (2002)

L'Intrus/ The Intruder (2004), yet another narrative experiment a` la Christopher Nolan's Memento (2000), can be an incredibly frustrating experience. For much of the film what we perceive is a collage of very brief scenes, most of which seem unrelated to each other. There are close-ups of arms and legs that hide or delay the view of faces. Key scenes are shot (by Agnes Godard) in very dark places where you can't make out what is happening and who is there. There are close-ups of ordinary objects like a blanket with no follow-up. There is very little dialog. The very first scene seems to have nothing to do with the rest of the film. The puzzle is not only narrative, it is also visual, because the camera lingers but does not reveal.
However, little by little the film reconstructs the protagonist's past, present and, above all, conscience: he is rich, has lived in different parts of the world, has left behind skeletons in several closets, lives in seclusion, has a much younger girlfriend, has a son he doesn't like, is haunted by the way he got his new heart, and is determined to buy a new heart and a new son, i.e. a new life. But much of this might be just the work of a delirious mind that reimagines his life's story, recasting characters he really met in new roles and with new outcomes.
The "intrudder" of the title may refer to many things: there might indeed have been an intruder killed at the beginning, or the intruder might be the new heart inside his body, or the intruder might be the false son that a village creates for him. Or it can be the protagonist himself, an intruder both in the virgin mountains and in the virgin islands.

A female border guard stops a car. She is training her dog. At home she has sex with her husband while their baby is crying.
By the shore of a lake in a forested region a naked middle-aged man, Louis, is enjoying the views in the company of his dogs. When he ventures into the lake, he almost drowns. His heart is clearly not doing well. Someone is spying him. Back in his cabin he grabs a gun and then we hear a shot, but the camera has already moved to show us a meaningless panorama of the lake. His only company up there is a young female dog breeder who lives on the other side of a fence. The same middle aged man is biking on the mountain road. He stops and stares at something with his binoculars. Back at home he makes love with his much younger girlfriend. Again, we can tell that his heart is not doing well. Later we see him cleaning a bloody knife and we see him wrapping the dead body of a young man. Meanwhile his girlfriend drove to town and opened her pharmacy.
Louis types a sentence in Russian. He remembers a coffin and a funeral.
When he goes to town, he is approached by a young man and his wife, who show him a newborn baby. Initially Louis tells them that he doesn't have money but then he gives them some: they are his son and his daughter-in-law, whom he clearly does not like.
Louis visits his sexy neighbor to leave her his dog because he's going on a trip. She makes fun of his craziness. He even tries to touch her sexually. He starts driving out of the forest, briefly chased by a dog. He drives the whole night on the unpaved road through forest. Meanwhile his son and his wife walk in the woods carrying their children. The handheld camera follows them for a while.
In the middle of the night Louis sees people jumping out of the woods like they are hiding: more intruders. He arrives in town early in the morning . He's all dressed up and, as he gets out of the car, he shaves. He picks up something from his safety box at the bank: lots of money. He moves into an expensive apartment downtown. There he meets a Russian woman, another young sexy woman, and gives her the money to buy a young man's heart.
Back in the countryside, the static camera shows a hunting party who stumble on the same sexy Russian who is smoking a cigarette. The dogs find something (the corpse of the intruder shot by Louis) and we hear a shot that scares them.
Louis buys an expensive watch.
Now the scene shifts to a winter landscape. A young man and the sexy Russian girl ride horses in the snow. They are pulling the body of a man in the snow. It is Louis, almost dead. He says he already paid. She replies that he has not paid enough. and this might all be a nightmare.
Louis lies in bed with his new expensive watch and checks his knife.
Back to the winter landscape: a woman (the dog breeder?) finds the body of a young man under a layer of ice. She breaks into a cabin (Louis' cabin?) and takes a bath in front of the fireplace. Two men with guns carry dead the body out of the iced lake.
A heart is abandoned in the snow, and a young woman is dead next to it. This, again, looks like a nightmare.
Louis can't sleep in his luxurious apartment. It is snowing on the city. A short blind old Chinese woman comes to massage him. He has a long scar on his chest, the remnant of a heart operation. From the window he can see that the city is covered in snow.
Then the scene changes again. He wakes up, looks outside, and... there is no snow at all, and in fact it is a sunny day, and from his window he has a great view of the sea. In the elevator he is surrounded by Chinese people, which means he is somewhere in China. In the elevator there is also a Russian couple, the same sexy woman and a young man. It is a hotel not his apartment. The camera shows ships in the harbor from odd angles. Some major celebration is going on. Louis is there for a formal business meeting. The Chinese businessmen say that they accept his offer. They congratulate him for starting a new life at his age. He says he is doing it for his son. Later he drinks alone in a humble restaurant. He walks out drunk with somebody he just met and realizes that the Russian woman is following him. He yells at her in Russian to leave him alone because he has a weak heart. It sounds like this is a flashback to when he went to China to purchase a new heart. The Russian woman may have been at the service of the Chinese to find the heart on the black market.
Back in the woods Louis' son enters a cabin (Louis' cabin?) and finds blood, burned papers and letters from his father. The son cries reading of father's love.
The scene moves to Tahiti. Louis wants to leave his money to his long lost son. He lies down in bed and there is no scar on his chest, so it must be before the heart operation. He takes a small plane and a motorboat to reach a remote place. He meets a woman who has a teenage boy. Louis asks her about Tikki, his son. She tells him that his son does not want to see him and does not want his money. The camera shows a young surfer in the ocean. An older local man, Henri, comes out of a humble shack and meets Louis in the place where a house used to stand. The two men are old friends. Louis tell Henri that he has come to find his son. Louis enrolls Henri to rebuild and resupply the house where he expects to meet his son. Now we can see the scar on his chest.
The camera shows a storm on a ship and a young man crouching in the rain. We can't hear his words.
A doctor visits Louis while the native cleans up the trail to his house. Now we are in a hospital room. Louis is lying in bed watching two Tahitian nurses, so he must be sick before the operation. The natives are digging a grave and mourners are singing around a table.
Now we witness a commission screening young men to pick one to act as Louis' son, someone who can pass for a white man's son. This is one of the few scenes that is long enough, in fact too long. Henri is part of the jury. They can't pick anyone but then a young man named Toni shows up at Henri's place and he is picked. From the conversation among the natives it sounds like they literally don't know which young man could be Louis' son or if such a son ever existed at all.
Henri shows up at the hospital to introduce Toni to Louis. Louis gives him some money, but the encounter is not emotional at all.
Next, we see Louis at the morgue as they are showing him the corpse of a young man (who looks a lot like his son in Europe, the one with the babies). Henri helps Louis carry the coffin to the ship where it is loaded. The camera indulges in a very long take of the island at dusk as the ship sails away.
The last scene shows the dog breeder in a sleigh driven by six dogs enjoying her ride through the snowy landscape.

35 Shots of Rum (2008), inspired by Ozu's Late Spring,

White Material (2009) is one of the best.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )