L’Intrus (Claire Denis, 2004

Female Filmmaker Project
What’s remarkable about Claire Denis’ L’Intrus is that at a structural level it is maybe her most cinematic feature to date, and I don’t mean that in terms of big or sweeping. I think cinema as a medium is visual at it’s core. It is about telling a story through images and L’Intrus is built up entirely on images. The narrative is stated in any expositional terms by any character, but shown in every frame. This makes L’Intrus her most basic achievement in cinema and her most difficult statement, because it’s entirely interpretational. I’m not sure if what I’m seeing is a vision, a dream or reality but in every image there’s meaning both obvious (dogs eating a heart) and cryptic (I’m still not sure what the dogs mean). This makes L’Intrus feel challenging, but in truth everything is laid out there for you to have as you will.

 After recently viewing Chantal Akerman’s Hotel Monterey I also thought about this as a film about the idea of home, but instead of it being only about the nature of a home as a place it is about the body as a home. Louis Trébor (Michel Subor) is a man who needs a heart transplant, and with the heart being an essence of life and perhaps even a metaphor for the soul does that mean without his heart is he now homeless within his own body? I think Denis’ film points towards yes. After his heart transplant he wanders aimlessly. He isn’t quite himself anymore. He moves from country to country and nothing feels quite right for him. He cannot settle and even his family feels different.

Denis has always been a filmmaker of bodies and the tone of her films often appear in the way she shoots those figures. She’s always close, framing them closely into the lens, and often focusing on one body part. She’ll move the camera over one’s body and depending on how she does all of this she creates different tones of physique. In Vendredi Soir the human body is sensual, alive with passion and free. In Bastards she took sexuality and used it for horror. In L’Intrus Louis body feels cold and in a way dead. He has a scar running up and down his chest and every time we see his frame it’s draped in this cool grey or blue lighting or he’s hooked up to a machine. There is no warmth in his soul after he loses his original heart. He’s essentially homeless in his own body. This is in stark contrast to the way Louis’ grandson is shot earlier in the film when his face is covered in sunlight and has a smile on his face. He has his original heart after all.

This makes me think Denis’ film is also about aging and regret. Louis’ has never been a good father. His entire family is estranged and he doesn’t even know his grandchildren. Despite his heart transplant he is sickly and even if he continues he doesn’t have the warmth of life in him. He doesn’t have a family so in one of the more absurd scenes a group of people he’s living with hold auditions to be his new son. While on his death bed he has one final vision of his son with the same scar running down his chest, he sees a coffin later and Louis is then on a boat. I think this signifies his son being the one thing he lost in life that he wishes he could have back.

What makes L’Intrus so fascinating is how flexible it is, and how someone else could easily come up with something different. In the power of cinema as an artistic medium I think a viewer can see what they want to and go on their own path. L’Intrus is one of those films. It feels expansive and in it’s imagery so very human. We all have dreams that we’re unsure of the meaning and one of the coolest things about cinema is that it can sometimes act as a function of those dreams. Where everything is endless and definition is mutable.

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