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the invader

Warning: some spoilers ahead.

'The Invader' ('L'envahisseur'), the feature film debut by Belgian video artist Nicholas Provost, poses uncomfortable questions about the immigration policies of Fortress Europe and its creeping xenophobia. More subtly, in a layered visual style that often expresses more than the deliberately simple narrative, the film shows the tragic corrosive effects of social exclusion on a young man's mind.

'The Invader' elaborates on Provost's 2004 short 'Exoticore'. Both films star Issaka Sawadogo as an (illegal) African immigrant who desperately tries to enter the affluent but closed European society that sees him, if at all, solely as a threat. In 'Exoticore' it is Oslo while 'The Invader' is set in Brussels, but the distrustful attitude of the locals is the same.

Crucially, however, in 'Exoticore' the protagonist has a job as a metro driver, and has thus already taken the major hurdle of economic integration. It points to Provost's real preoccupation, of social integration and the thin but all-important line between being 'in' and being 'out'.

The Invader - 1

By contrast, in 'The Invader' Amadou has nothing but his body and his wits when he washes ashore on an Italian beach. The much talked-about opening scene, which Provost deviously called "a commercial for Europe", starts with a modern version of 'L'Origine du monde' on a nudist beach and continues to show a beautiful, independent woman observing Amadou as he emerges from the sea. The scene introduces a visual motif that runs through the film, of a sexualized Europe - liberated and decadent at the same time - seen from the perspective of an outsider. Significantly, the second impression Amadou gets of Europe is the seedy red light district of Brussels.

Another good example of Provost's visual style is the opening title sequence, showing a long and abstract journey through a tunnel, using the mirroring technique he also used for earlier experimental work like 'Papillon d'amour' (2003) and 'Storyteller' (2010). On a narrative level it represents the journey Amadou makes from Italy to Brussels. Symbolically it is also linked to the opening image and can be seen as a birth of sorts - which ironically transports Amadou from the seductive commercial of Europe to the gritty and hostile reality of Brussels. Provost described the tunnel sequence as Amadou's "psychological downward spin towards hell".

The Invader - 2

From his arrival in Brussels, Amadou is determined to get ahead and carve out a place for himself. As the title indicates, 'The Invader' is not the helpless victim of the system that we know from films like the Dardennes brothers' 'La Promesse' or that other recent Belgian 'J'accuse', 'Illégal'. Instead, Amadou soon wrests himself free from the exploitative underbelly of Brussels and seduces a rich lady, Agnès, fascinatingly portrayed by Stefania Rocca.

For a short while it looks like Amadou has indeed managed to enter society. But as the film insinuates visually (for example, the sex scene between Amadou and Agnès is filmed from outside, through glass) he remains an outsider. And as fast as he reached his foothold, he is losing it again. Amadou's attempts to hold on become more desperate, and he slowly turns into the unpredictable criminal that society has taken him for the whole time.

The Invader - 3

To extend the metaphor of Fortress Europe, Amadou lays siege to a society that refuses to let him in, and we watch him lose. By the end of the film, he takes refuge in psychosis to convince himself he's 'in' - a sad conclusion that drives home the fact that there are no easy solutions to this complex issue.

Between the memorable opening and the strong, ambiguous ending, 'The Invader' turns into a psychological thriller whose atmosphere is heavily influenced by David Lynch. There is some uneven pacing here, and perhaps one too many of the brooding cityscape sequences, but the film's careful visual language and soundtrack stay captivating.

Often closer to visual art than to Hollywood, 'The Invader' is a film to decode, a process that continues long after the film is over.


iffr: illégal

Lots of heavy drama on the closing day of IFFR , with ' Tyrannosaur ', ' Incendies ' and ' Illégal ' in a row. The last one, a furious indictment of the Belgian asylum system, proved the most urgent as it lays bare a highly sensit… Read the full post »

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