Toronto Cont’d, L’Intrus


Well, I arrived back in Los Angeles this afternoon, and I’ll be posting comments on all of the films I watched in Toronto in the next couple of days. The festival was a truly whirlwind experience, particularly since I stayed with some friends outside the city in Mississauga, which ensured a nasty combination of late nights and early mornings. Large doses of coffee, increasingly blustery weather, and sheer enthusiasm propelled us through the week despite only getting five or six hours of sleep a night. At the same time, as Darren pointed out, the car-pooling and shared accommodations also enjoyably dictated a bit of group dependence and cohesion rather than what could have been an extended experience of passerby hellos and occasional glimpses of one another.

It deepens my conviction that film criticism is a social act, and certainly cinephilia and festival going are as well. And one of the most enjoyable aspects of my social exchanges at TIFF was their gracious diversity–casual film watchers and budding cinephiles mixed with film obsessives, first-time TIFF attendees and seven-year veterans, many of whom had never met before but were granted equal conversational space like the single large platter of Ethiopian food we shared on Friday night. It was endearing to watch the multi-talented Girish, one moment gesticulating and eyes blazing while passionately defending one film or another (“He could be a character from Waking Life,” Darren quipped), and the next moment carefully considering another person’s perspective, whose thoughts were equally important to him. As I mentioned in my previous blog, the opportunity to spend time with these folks, people I usually only chat with online from day to day, made an already ideal event virtually transcendent.

Which brings me, oddly enough, to the single most controversial film at TIFF (if dinner conversations are any indication), Claire Denis’ L’Intrus, a film I’m still rather ambiguous toward. It plays like an elliptical narrative, but in fact, probably isn’t one, and I can’t shake the conviction that this structural ambiguity is a flaw in its overall artistic design, lacking the proper cues to lead viewers in an engagement of the film. I spent the entire two hours–I’m convinced–totally misreading the film’s basic structure and I don’t think there is any way I could have avoided that. I have often had to reevaluate my interpretation of a film, but I have rarely had to reevaluate my perceptions of the fundamental structure of one. It’s like watching a comedy and suddenly realizing it was really a horror film once the credits roll. Girish loved the movie, but when pressed, he admitted a comment I made before his screening (something to the effect of, “I have absolutely no opinion regarding the film”) cued him to expect something avant garde.

No doubt if I had recognized L’Intrus as an experimental work, I would have subdued the strong narrative hints the film offers in my assembly of its meaning, and thus enjoyed its fragmented portraiture in and of itself instead of working so hard to piece together something which likely isn’t even a puzzle. I strongly feel it is an artist’s responsibility to structure his or her works in ways that cue the viewer toward the work’s overarching interpretive scheme: Godard’s playful use of absurdity and illogical repetition in Pierrot le fou or the episodic, talking heads approach of Linklater’s Waking Life alerts the viewer early on that the unifying principles of these films lie beyond narrative concerns; I don’t feel it is possible, without previous warning, to engage Denis’ work in the same way. In fact, I’m convinced that a second viewing is pretty much necessary to read the film the way she intended, and even then one’s interpretation of meaning seems pretty much up for grabs, a project that seems too individualistic–or even narcissistic–for my tastes, whether it’s Mulholland Drive or Denis’ inarguably beautifully-lensed and rhythmically seductive picture.

But I’m still pondering this one…

This most frustrating of films inspired some of my best conversations with Girish, even though I had to assure him that I was disagreeing purely out of the pleasure of hearing him defend it, and as a way of appreciating our differing responses to the film and our perceptions and values in general. And what more could we possibly want from any film?

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