A synchronicity between man’s interior state and corporeal self has, since Beau Travail, gradually come to define Claire Denis’s contemplative cinema, and with The Intruder her evolution from narrative cogency toward a more elusively trance-like aesthetic reaches a mesmeric apex. Splintered into a series of sketchily defined sequences that all relate, in ways both obvious and obscure, to a callous man named Louis Trebor’s (Michel Subor) dual quest for a heart transplant and for reunion with his son, Denis’s latest exists in a sort of fugue state where past and present characters and incidents merge not along clear, rational lines but, rather, like memories united by sensory and tonal associations.
Invisible emotional and psychological tendons are the ties that keep the film from completely dispersing into non-sequential incoherence, and thus attuning oneself to the story’s fluctuating mood swings is a vital requirement for comprehending its portrait of dislocation, estrangement, and isolation. Alternately coexisting in the physical world and its protagonist’s angst-ridden subconscious, The Intruder sinuously marries Louis’s heart-related disintegration with his mental deterioration, neither of which is alleviated by his acquisition of a new black-market ticker from a mysterious organ-dealer (Katia Golubeva) who haunts him like a materialized manifestation of his inescapable guilt. The border between the real and unreal is as insecure as the Franco-Swiss boundary line guarded by the wife of Louis’s son Sidney (Denis regular Grégoire Colin), and as Louis wends his way from the French wilderness to the streets of Korea and, finally, to a tropical South Seas island, he encounters a variety of vague characters including, most puzzlingly, a mysterious, reclusive dog breeder (Béatrice Dalle) whom Louis refers to only as the Queen of the Northern Hemisphere.
Very loosely based on Jean-Luc Nancy’s L’Intrus (a memoir of a heart transplant), Denis’s film ultimately piles on syntactical transgressions to the point of vexation, her emblem-overloaded thematic preoccupation with “intrusion” so willfully obtuse and scattered that it becomes an occasional chore attempting to maintain a grasp on the action’s increasingly impenetrable progress. Yet even when it’s at its most maddeningly opaque, Agnes Godard’s gorgeously grave, frequently hand-held cinematography (especially when rocking gently on the deck of an oceanic ship) and Tindersticks vocalist Stuart Staples’s magnificently evocative, haunting guitar-driven score (accentuated by throbbing electronic beats) more than facilitate one’s desire to simply succumb to The Intruder’s atmosphere of longing, regret, and repression.