A Dying Man’s Long Goodbye


The Intruder is some kind of breakthrough for Claire Denis—her most poetic and primal film, as thrilling as it is initially baffling. It’s clear enough that The Intruder is a dying man’s long goodbye; whether it’s a final accounting of a guilty conscience, a premonition of the hereafter, or a little of both is harder to say. There’s a fair chance at least half the movie takes place in the protagonist’s head. Fluidly merging an interior and an exterior journey, the film establishes a dreamy parity between memory and anticipation, fact and hallucination. Denis claims as inspiration French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy’s L’Intrus, an account of his heart transplant that ponders the existential implications of this corporeal intrusion. More intuitive than analytical, Denis applies the text’s pungent sense of internal foreignness—along with its push-pull of encroachment and rejection—not just to the human body but also to the natural world, border crossings, post-colonial dynamics, fathers and sons. For what is essentially an adaptation of a metaphor, The Intruder is almost shockingly concrete. Its intractable physicality owes much to Michel Subor, a man’s-man presence in the lead role, and the imposing landscapes in which he’s often framed. Cinematographer Agnés Godard ensures that almost every image leaves a retinal imprint: a heart palpitating in the snow, a sunbathing Louis spooning with his dogs, an infant in a sling beaming up at his father, rainbow streamers billowing off a newly christened ship, two men in knee-deep water hoisting a mattress ashore, a cloth-covered coffin on a forklift. This mysterious object may be Denis’s most gorgeous film, but more than that, it’s a fearless filmmaker’s boldest experiment yet, a direct line from her unconscious to yours.

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