‘The Intruder’ – a sensual odyssey on Criterion Channel

Claire Denis’s vivid and visceral The Intruder (France, 2005) stars Michel Subor as Louis Trebor, a grizzled old lone wolf who has left the herd for a solitary existence in the Northern wilderness. Or so it seems from the first images, wandering through the wilds under his hard, tight face etched with years and mane of white hair, leading a pack of dogs.

Louis may be a Russian spy, he certainly needs a heart transplant, and he apparently has the clout and the money to buy a black market heart and head out on a globe-trotting odyssey to find a son (Denis regular Grégoire Colin) he abandoned years ago. But he’s still cunning and ruthless, as we see when he makes quick work of an intruder on his land.

The Intruder may be a spy thriller, a tale of redemption, or the fever dream of a heart patient haunted by his paternal failures of the past. To reduce Denis’ elusive and elliptical drama to any kind of literal plot, however, misses the point. The story is filled with magnificent contradictions, conundrums, fantasies and metaphors turned into primal, lush images, and the texture and intensity of the odyssey makes it spellbinding thanks to the cinematography by Agnés Godard. When a character tramps through a forest, wades through the surf, or brushed the flesh of another, you can almost feel the sensation through her vibrant color, her caressing camera, and her unique rhythms.

It can’t all be “real,” but Denis isn’t letting on how much is fantasy, how much guilty visions, and how much his own physical quest, perhaps because the entire drama bubbles up from his regrets and his sins remembered as he gets a new lease on life. The question he faces is: at what cost?

Katia Golubeva and Alex Descas costar and Beatrice Dalle is unforgettable as the Queen of the North.

Not rated, win French with English subtitles

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The Intruder [DVD]

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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