"L'Intrus": A surreal narrative with a change of heart

If you approach Claire Denis' "L'Intrus (The Intruder)" expecting a conventional narrative, you will be sorely disappointed and most likely perplexed; if you attend with less specific hopes, it may well beguile you. Denis, the French filmmaker whose work includes "Chocolat" (which drew on her childhood in colonial Africa), "Beau Travail," and "I Can't Sleep," specializes in creating a dreamlike state. Her films seem to float freely above our ideas of conventional storytelling, dazzling us with imagery while leaving us to fill in the narrative blanks.

Movie review 3 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"L'Intrus (The Intruder)," with Michel Subor, Béatrice Dalle, Grégoire Colin, Katia Golubeva, Bambou. Written and directed by Claire Denis. 130 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In French with English subtitles. Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.

At the center of "L'Intrus" is a man named Louis Trebor (Michel Subor) who lives in isolation near the Swiss-French border; seeing little of his grown son (Grégoire Colin) and showing emotion only toward the pretty, freckled pharmacist (Bambou) with whom he is having an affair.

Trebor is facing a heart transplant, for which he has chosen what he calls "the emergency solution" — paying for a heart on the black market. Over the film's leisurely running time, he has the surgery, travels to Korea to buy a boat and finally completes his journey to Tahiti, where he once lived, searching for someone he lost long ago.

The title is a metaphor on several levels: Trebor's intrusion into his past, the new heart's intrusion into his body, a literal intruder whom Trebor killed long ago. While it may take a few viewings to sort the details out, much about "L'Intrus" lingers, shimmering quietly in the memory: the softly rolling sea, a cold purple under the blue sky; a long, lovely close-up of a baby smiling up at his father as if pleased with the world; a dream sequence in pale-lavender snow, with a face appearing below the ice; a fantasy visit from a laughing Queen of the Northern Hemisphere. In Tahiti, under the sun, he fingers his now-fading scar; his once-empty new heart is beginning to fill again.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com