With her latest film, L’Intrus (The Intruder), which was nominated for a Golden Lion at the 2004 Venice Film Festival, Denis has created her most mysterious, enthralling and strangely invigorating work since Beau Travail. The film tracks the global peregrinations of an enigmatic 68-year-old man, Louis Trebor (Michel Subor), who goes looking for a long-lost son and a new organ to replace his ailing heart. From his isolated woodland compound in the Jura Mountains of France to the boisterous markets and shipyards of Pusan, Korea – where he buys a boat after recovering from a clandestine, possibly illegal, transplant operation – Trebor slowly threads his way back to his former home on a remote island near Tahiti. With its triptych structure, each stage of which corresponds to a different geographical region and atemporal narrative, L’Intrus is an allusive memory-puzzle of sorts, dreamlike, beguiling and visually poetic. Part of the film’s haunting quality derives from Trebor’s opaque identity – is he a former spy? an international fugitive? another incarnation of Subor’s multifilmic alias Bruno Forestier? – not to mention that he’s shadowed by an equally mysterious, unnamed Russian woman (Katia Golubeva) whose ominous appearance is a catalyst for his journey. The scenario is further complicated by the ambiguous, possibly imagined, ties between Trebor’s grown-up son (Grégoire Colin) – who lives near Geneva with his wife, a Swiss border guard, and rarely sees his emotionally distant father – and the Polynesian offspring he left behind long ago.
Taking inspiration from Robert Louis Stevenson, Paul Gauguin’s idyllic South Seas paintings and a 40-page memoir by French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, from whom Denis borrowed the title and heart-transplant motif, L’Intrus has yet another textual body double: Paul Gégauff’s 1965 adventure film Le Reflux, set in Tahiti and also starring Michel Subor. Footage from this old movie appears late in the film like the colour-saturated recollection of a nonexistent place.