{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Claire Denis' The Intruder

It is lazy on an interpreter's part to refer a series of images that does not fit the conventions of narrative as dreams or figments of imagination, as it is uncinematic on a film director's part to convey the internal thoughts of a person using voice overs. It is important to see that both of them work sometimes, but it doesn’t make them less lazy or less uncinematic. Many of the good films mix dreams, reality, imagination, memory, subconscious, past and present in various ways, in ways that intentionally separate them and the ways that tend to mix them inseparably, as per the requirement by the story they tell. Claire Denis' The Intruder tells the story of a heart transplant based on French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy's memoir of his own heart transplant. The basic thing to understand about the film is how Denis is trying to tell the story - firstly using film as a medium, and secondly as a fictional account (although she claims that all the details come from Jean-Luc Nancy's 30 page book, she also says somewhere its 'adoption', not adaptation of the book). Since the medium is film, there cannot be any easy ways (like a Dostoevsky-ian monologues) to know the subconscious of the protagonist, and since its fiction, it can not show the "actual" operation in progress (and that will be boring too). Denis does invent a cinematic way to deal with these two problems. Every thing takes a physical shape here - the past, the old body, the old heart, the old world, the fear of death, regrets and relationships, the will to live, the new heart. They become simple replacements (I am using the word replacement because I don’t want to use "metaphor"), they no longer "represent", they "are".

To give a simple example - a man without a heart (or a ailing heart) is shown a heartless (unkind) man. There is something physical in the meaning of the common words we use. The emotion and the poetry that Denis drains from those words by giving them physical shape, she duly feeds them back by enigmatic/poetic images she attaches them too. It’s a cinematic bargain in favor of the medium she works in. Denis manages a sense of wonder and awe that can be equated to the feeling of looking in someone’s head (or rather heart). And, as somebody who has seen Beau Travail will know, how good Claire Denis and her cinematographer Agnes Godard are in filming human skin and bodies (other French director who knows how to film skin is Patrice Chereau), although here Denis is not interested in eroticizing toned bodies of crew cut French soldiers but here skin takes a special meaning as it is something that protects and encloses the home of heart (the ribcage), and it gets scared in operations. So, in a way, healing scars (a replacement, a metaphor for wound/recovery – emotional and physical) on the chest of our protagonist guide us to where we (and the story) are going.

One thing that I am most impressed by is the director's effort not to mess or consciously confuse. The film, in its impenetrable and fractured exposition, is in my view fairly chronological and if we try to see it in physical terms (and I think that’s what Denis intended) and get hold of one thread, it unfolds beautifully (actually it is a nice fantasy film too where dogs are the hostile environment for the new heart that has several physical motifs, one being a ticking watch [that will die one day], and doctor as a masseur cum magician fighting a beautiful and enigmatic angel of death) with spellbinding eclipses. Once we have something real and physical to hold on, other important thing like emotions and sentiments come easy and right. Of the two films I have seen by Claire Denis, the endings have surprising unleash of energy. Beau Travail ends with an exhilarating dance by Denis Lavant. Here too, the Queen of Northern Hemisphere rides high on a sledge run by dogs, with a wide winning smile on her face. Is it a victory of the bodily resistance to new or is it the intruding new heart on a plunge?


Alok said...

writing about this film is a brave undertaking, so first of all, kudos!

now tell among other things who was the girl with the dogs and the sledge?

anurag said...


Louis' old home in Northern Hemisphere (where he used to live in the beginning of the film) is surely his old body and old world. His dogs that follow him everywhere are hostility of anyone alien to the environment/body (there is a scene earlier in the film where sniffer dogs search a car at a check post). Beatrice Dalle is the one who breeds those dogs, the dogs that keep her kingdom (of old bodies) away from aliens (new organs). She is the resistance (sort of collective resistance of the old body community) of the body. It depends how you see her - she is protecting the old or she is checking the new. She is, if I can say so, in some ways a smug inertia of being.

When Louis goes to her to ask her keep (or return) his dogs, she refuses and let them follow him (as guilt) as he searched for the new heart.

The last scene is little confusing, and Claire Denis explains that in the DVD interview (for record, it is the best DVD feature that I have seen since the Jack Nicholson narrated essays in L'avventura DVD) . It was supposed to be put right in the middle of the film, but at the editing table it seemed to fit in the end.

In credits Beatrice Dalle is referred as 'Queen of Northern Hemisphere'.

and of course there can be other intepretations !