Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

How much can you leave out of a story?

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Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Richard Linklater’s Boyhoodwhich chronicles its star’s literal growth from grade-schooler to college student, has us thinking back on other ambitious narrative experiments.


The Intruder (2004)

The Intruder—French director Claire Denis’ most polarizing work, and one of the most purely enigmatic movies of the last few decades—is unquestionably a narrative film, and a fairly plotty one at that, connecting countless (mostly unnamed) characters in a globe-trotting story that involves border smuggling, organ harvesting, and a retired mercenary’s search for the illegitimate child he abandoned decades ago. Not that it ever overtly states any of these things. In fact, The Intruder plays like an experiment, designed to determine how little a movie needs to still qualify as narrative.

Forget about character names or exposition—The Intruder dispenses with most of the cornerstones and conventions of storytelling. Unlike other puzzle movies, though, it also never acknowledges that something is missing, proceeding at a steady clip instead of lingering on ellipses. Occasionally, a stray detail will reveal that, say, the last few scenes have taken place in a different country, or that two seemingly unrelated characters are in fact father and son. Time doesn’t pass, it skips, and characters don’t travel so much as materialize elsewhere.

This results in a sort of musicality, in which recognizable characters, performances (from a cast of Denis regulars, including Michel Subor, Grégoire Colin, Alex Descas, and the late Yekaterina Golubeva), and plot points are overwhelmed by motif and theme. Though the story’s time frame, locations, and relationships may remain tantalizingly obscure, its vision of a world in which bodies are continually being bought, sold, and transported across international lines comes through with sinister clarity.

Availability: The Intruder is available on DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix.