Kindness of Strangers

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         My films are more formulated like questions… states Claire Denis in an interview.[1] This assertion is actually the best possible depiction of her work. Although her films are known as low budget ones, their scenarios are complicated and complex in posing questions and establishing problems. They offer the possibility of decipherment but not of giving final solutions or conclusions. Plots and frames in her movies are perpetuated and intense interrogations of oneself. However, it is not unknown that questions include and impose the search for possible answers.

          Sometimes some people do something good for you even when they are unaware of it. It was not what they intended to accomplish. Their help, at that time, looked — and not just to you – as an attack. It intrudes into all your mental, and sometimes physical, layers; feelings of your possible guilt for their harming you arise and touch your first memories, when you rejected obedience. But, they have, by some strange providence, rescued you from themselves and from their often ominous goodwill.

           One day your own body does this to you with an illness.[2] Jean-Luc Nancy’s booklet LIntrus, about the transplantation of his heart and the complexity of this medical and ethical procedure,was published in 2000. He developed a chronicle of an intruder in his body, inquiring how one becomes for oneself a representation as well as what transplantation can represent in contemporary consciousness about identity.[3] This leads him, and his reader, to the confrontation with demanding questions: “Why survive, generally speaking? What does it mean ‘to survive’? Is it even a suitable term?”[4] He concludes that the multiple stranger who intrudes upon his life is none other than death.[5] Even though, it is, in this, his situation, just a suspension of the continuum of his being.With an intruder in his body, he becomes foreign to himself. This intruder, as Jean-Luc Nancy is aware, is no other than him, himself.[6]

           His observations inspired Claire Denis to make the film by the same name, LIntrus / The Intruder, in 2004, which Nancy later extensively analyzes, calling her course of action in making that movie not an adaptation but adoption.[7] Her film, though it is not Jean-Luc Nancy’s biographical story, opens up further possibilities of researching issues that occupy Nancy. For him, this is a labyrinthine scenario in which the man with a weak heart has to undergo transplantation so that he could continue to search for his lost son, and whose heart eventually ends up in his bosom. Following Claire Denis’ thread in her maze movie, Nancy notices that the whole direction of the film, all its kinetics, are literally in transition. The intruder is one who transits as well as the one who intrudes. His intrusion is followed by his departure,so he stays stranger in this transition, he cannot be identified and hisdomicile cannot be located.[8]

          LIntrus is a story of inner and outer traveling that introduces the theme of going away to sea that traditionally has a meaning of initiation.[9] Claire Denis remarks: My films are not highly intellectual, and L’ Intrus is like a boat lost in the ocean drifting[10]Jean-Luc Nancy’s text and Claire Denis’ film complement each other. For her it is as if they had been traveling in the same train or boat without knowing.”[11]

          This interlacing and interpolation of his booklet and her movie is more important for the third person,the one who is watching: the spectator and the reader. The observer. The one who witnesses the interweaving of these two works outside themself. For the stranger. The one that neither author nor director knows much about. In a way, she or he is an invisible intruder of whom they are unaware in the  process of their creativity. Jean-Luc Nancy notices that it is as though only the stranger can understand everything that we ourselves do not understand.[12] A stranger that Nancy is talking about is the third one in this trinity of the transplanted heart: one who has lost her/his heart, the second one is“tourne à vide,” while the third is taking care of the other two.Spectator’s imagination is an important contributor in this process of mutual comprehension. In these circumstances of an intruder, intrusion implicates its own intricacy and its theme is inextricable from the truth of the stranger.[13] In Jean-Luc Nancy’s case study, this stranger decides about his life.

          Nevertheless, what is a connection between stranger, intruder and Nancy’s heart transplantation? Claire Denis’ explanation is worthy of note. In her opinion Jean-Luc Nancy himself was not sure about that. She remembers that when he was asked to write something about immigration – because Derrida had been participating to a big movement in 1997, we signed petitions for immigration, and Derrida wrote a text on hospitality[14] and he asked Nancy to be part, to write also something – and he starts the book it was to be called “L’Etranger”, and suddenly he decided it is not the right word, it is like foreigner, like fading away, and he chooses “LIntrus“,[15] the Intruder, because it is hard… And Nancy, continues Claire Denis, starts writing LIntrus to speak about immigration and suddenly, maybe after one hour, he realizes it was about him and that he was writing about his heart so he completely mixed the project[16]

           Claire Denis finds it important, in her elucidation of what was going on in Nancy’s mind while he was writing LIntrus, to emphasis that he never read Faulkner’s novel Intruder in the Dust, which is concerned with racialism and the status of the African-American.[17] It is interesting that neither she nor Jean-Luc Nancy mention, or do not think it is worth pointing out, the well-known essay that was published in 1974 and has been a brilliant depiction of the same problem: Susan Sontag’s “Illness as Metaphor.”[18] While Nancy starts writing about immigration and suddenly realizes that this is story of his illness, Susan Sontag, also already gravely ill, immediately recognizes illness as a metaphor and all the traps that that it can socially and politically mean and be misused as such. It was not such a long time ago that mental illness was considered a diabolic intrusion into so-called pious society.

           Claire Denis clarifies that she took Nancy’s book as a proposal for a sort of inside voyage: … like this old man was dreaming the last possible trip he would make if he could… She built the film around the idea of intrusion and the only character in the film that is protected, in her opinion, is the one whose role is played by Beatrice Dalle with her dogs. Nobody can intrude in on her life, she is protected, no one can touch her, all the others are fragile, hurt…[19] The spectator of the film sees that person as another spectator, as a bystander inside Denis’ movie. Beatrice Dalle does not belong to the main plot. To its world. She is the disinterested viewer. She is thus also one of the intruders in Claire Denis’ own film. And this one is noticeable as such only to the spectator of Denis’ movie, to the onlooker of her directorial skill. It is difficult not to notice that this untouchable character might be the detached director herself. Freud has noticed that in only one character’s soul, the poet has situated himself and watches the others. Betraying the quality of his not being vulnerable,gives away His Majesty the Ego… the hero of all the dreams as well as all the novels.[20]

           Trailing Claire Denis’ thread through the maze in her movie signifies going after the trace of a stranger, strangeness, of an intruder. She understands each scene in her film as an effect of intrusion. Or, as a stranger who reveals strangeness in oneself as well as social and personal hypocrisy. This is an intrusion into the structure of the skilled and established configuration of alienation. It can also suggest, in the long run, breaking up with that structure. Namely, this is an inquiry and an attempt at the possibility of getting closer to the stranger, intruder as the opportunity to get closer to oneself. When Claire Denis read Nancy’s book, she realized that intrusion is about life and that is the reason that it should be a father and son story: because children are also intruding into life, as well as love can be intrusion… she cannot see one moment important in life that does not have the shape of intrusion.[21] However, Wim Staat perceives that the intruder is personified and made into a foreigner, although the film is more explicit at times in making the intruder a migrant, who crosses borders.[22]

            The heart of an unknown son as the heart of a donator, not only symbolically, is the heart of the one who passed away too early, the one who could be a son or daughter. This is an offering about which neither donator nor the one who receives the heart does not know much about. The feelings of guilt and rage are replaced by the metaphor of strangeness that easily slips into dark areas of human history. Here strangeness, as Nancy indicates, reveals itself “at the heart.”[23] Even before the first titles, Denis‘ film begins with a warning by Yekaterina Golubeva’s character: “Your worst enemies are hidden inside, in the shadows, in your heart.”[24] This voice over, notices Wim Staat, seems addressed to the films protagonist, Louis Trebor (Michel Stubor), a man in his sixties who undergoes a heart transplant. However, Claire Denis does not ease any process of viewer identification with the main character.[25] The words that Staat easily deciphers at the beginning of the film, Jean-Luc Nancy has a problem understanding. Hearing.[26] Unfortunately, Golubeva’s life destiny outside film happened to confirm the text that she pronounced at the very beginning of the scenario.

           Claire Denis’ film LIntrus is about displacement. It has been founded on dislocation. As she has grown up on African territory, she is once again a stranger after returning to her native scenery with which she has not been familiar. For that reason, she has been, in a way, acquainted with a feeling of strangeness as well as with an experience of becoming an invisible intruder, knowledge of feeling rootless.[27] Consequently, for Martine Beugnet it does not come as a surprise that Claire Denis has been inspired by Jean-Luc Nancy’s works, whose interests and research spread across the fields of politics and psychoanalysis, developing around notions of otherness and selfhood, community and multiculturalismNancy found the echo of many aspects of his thought in Deniss films – not least in their refusal of closure – and has proved to be a particularly perceptive viewer and analyst of her work. For both of them “the truth“ of the foreigner lies in the impossibility of reducing and erasing the difference without denying her/his existence at the same time.[28] In Nancy’s words, there must be an element of the intruder in the stranger, otherwise her/his strangeness is lost.

           Claire Denis has declared that she does not respect her main character from her film LIntrus. He embodies everything she does not like. Politically, he represents everything she has an aversion to in her country, especially selfish-solitude mentality. Consequently, she is happy that he is condemned at the end, that he is defeated. When she wrote the script, she called him A Man With No Heart, a heartless man. He rejects his son, so Claire Denis wanted him also to be rejected.[29]

           Consequently, it has happened that she has created an unexpected intruder in her own plot. The personality of the main character that is based on a life story of a person she likes and respects, Jean-Luc Nancy, in her movie develops into the person whom she detests intensely and wants to suffer. It is important to notice that we do not need other continents and foreigners to be faced with the truth of an intruder. As Claire Denis has noticed sometimes, it is just enough to be an unexpected newcomer in one’s own family to experience the feeling of being an intruder. The film industry is bursting with plots about unaccepted losers, unwanted children, whom even the script does not stop from committing social suicide. Or, actual suicide. Petit bourgeois society is difficult to please. It survives by hating and humiliating intruders, making them suckers for the punishment.[30] Nowadays we witness that a number of people treat some other people’s gods as foreigners in their country. However, one does not need to be a stranger, a foreigner, to have the feeling of not belonging in close relationship, in a family, or in the school. It is easy not to fit in, to be an intruder by someone’s social standards. It is also easy to become a parade intruder. An integrated one. Accepted one.

           There is an unavoidable feeling that Claire Denis’s film The Intruder operates similarly to a dream, with sequences that have the dramaturgy of a dream-like logic. With the introduction of the dream-like experience of the film The Intruder, the audience is on the territory of the unconscious. Dream is via regia to it.[31] This is the place where das Unheimliche reigns.[32] The uncanny has connotations of something mysterious and frightening, which triggers fear and anxiety. It is horrifying because it is rooted in something known and close. Inevitably, one experiences the uncanny in the search for oneself. She or he detects the double, split and stranger in her or him. It leads us to learn something that we often avoid knowing about ourselves. Truth. Besides, it is not, as in Claire Denis’ film and in Jacques Lacan’s teaching, the whole one. Understanding our feeling of the uncanny is essential for the comprehension of the contemporary cultural and political scene. This is a constant research of our own otherness. It is also a way of healing. It could be a possible answer to the problems of identity by detecting a stranger in us. The one who asks whose history we are talking about. Whose memory are we nourishing? The search for it might be liberating but it can also become obsessive and aggressive. It could easily become a pragmatic esthetical project.

           The problem of strangeness is also the question of avoiding confrontation with one’s own identity. Silent words from the beginning of the film LIntrus warn about our inner darkness. Nevertheless, this disturbing part in us can be easily turned into kitsch by esthetical pragmatism and its misuse when ethics becomes merely performance, playing along with the so-called esthetical approach. Claire Denis’ film avoids that problem and her sincere attitude opens up the audience to the issues of intrusion. It does not make them divert her or his gaze because of the unpleasant feeling that film plays with its authenticity. Film that poses the questions might be an answer to our doubts. It is not questionable that performing arts can be a possible strategy of collective reconsideration of community and us. More importantly, why do we avoid realizing truth about ourselves and what is that that disables the efficiency of our knowledge? Because ethics has been misused by esthetics?

           It could be said that the specter of the inquiry of identity is not only haunting Europe, but the whole world. If in Marx’s time the issue of identity was accentuated, as it is nowadays, his famous slogan might be different. Namely, the question of identity is also political question. Derrida connects hospitality with interruption. We are at the same time hosts, immigrants and emigrants. Always strangers. Intruders. The difficulty of the identity problem today is the problem of accepting and agreeing on authenticity and truth. Recognizing and accepting otherness and strangeness in ourselves. Or, maybe, similarity. Not to consent to the fabrication of memory and its deletion, but to show willingness to articulate, as much as it is possible, uncanny in our lives. On the other hand, it could be said that the world is an uncanny place. Estrangement as well as being homeless, without residence, habitation, far from oneself, as ego who is not master in its home[33], is something that characterizes our time.

          Claire Denis’ LIntrus is outside time. The story is displaced, always in transition of time and fixed borders. This makes her film at all times actual. Currently it stresses, more than ever, the complexity of immigration, of strangeness. Of being an intruder. Still, this is the talk of one who analyzes strangeness from the privileged position, not the speech of an intruder. In Nancy’s case it is lethal. This is not the language of immigrants who are forced by immigration policy to take off their clothes and to undergo public washing with disinfectant, in order that they would not pollute clean Europe.[34] Those have to be silent. Recently in Italy a few of them protested by sawing their lips with wire. This is an answer to the question of what it is like to be considered an intruder. As it happened to the first son of the main character in Denis’s film, to the son who is not European. The first time he is an intruder in the love story of his parents, the second time when his heart was transplanted into the body of his father. Transplantation is an area of the capital. Also an emotional one. Even if it might look to be easier to give away one’s own heart after death, about which we are ignorant, it is not undemanding to learn to receive it. From the stranger. Intruder. With the same blood type. It teaches us that no one belongs anywhere. That we are always intruders.

         The number of illnesses outnumbers the textbooks. Patients, or the one who think they are, call heavy medicine poisons. However, their whole life they allow themselves to be poisoned by lies and hypocrisies. They voluntarily agree to them. Sometimes they even produce them. The ways of treating those ailments only prevent them for a while, and do not stop time. It is similar to the acceptance of strangeness: we evade the solution and just offer the ways of stopping it. If it seems that the problem of strangeness has been solved and accepted at one part of the world, it erupts at the other end. Or, in a another time. It surpasses even the unconscious transgression. The fear that intruder might become imposter is overwhelming. In spite of the attempt to analyze and elucidate it, it has not moved far away from the sensitive and confused consciousness of being unaccepted. As Tennessee Williams’ Blanche Dubois would calmy admit: “Whoever you are – I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”[35]

Essay is published in a catalogue of Film Mutations: Festival of Invisible Cinema 06-07 / The Images of Catharsis and Capital,(195-207) | Zagreb: 2014, curated by Tanja Vrvilo.

[1] “Intruding Beauty: An Interview with Claire Denis” (

[2] It is difficult not to hear as an echo from Frantz Fanon’s words from Black Skin, White Masks:“My final prayer: Oh my body, make of me always a man who questions!” Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, London: Pluto Press 2008, p. 181

[3] LIntrus, Paris: Galilée, 2000; LIntrus, translated by Susan Hanson, Drake University, Michigan State University Press 2002

[4] Ibid., p. 5

[5] Ibid., p. 7

[6] Ibid., p. 8

[7] Jean-Luc Nancy, “L’Intrus selon  Claire Denis”, 4 mai 2005 (

[8] Ibid., p. 6

[9] Jorge Luis Borges in his story “The Improbable Impostor Tom Castro” talking about running away to sea, cites also the words from The Scriptures: “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep” (Psalms 107:23-24). In Universal History of Iniquity, London: Penguin Books, 1998, p. 16

[10] L ‘Intrus: An Interview with Claire Denis, by Damon Smith, senses of cinema, http:–, p. 3

[11] “Intruding Beauty: An Interview with Claire Denis”, op. cit.

[12] Jean-Luc Nancy, „L’Intrus selon Claire Denis“, 4 mai 2005, p.6

[13] LIntrus, Paris: Galilée, 2000; LIntrus, translated by Susan Hanson, Drake University, Michigan State University Press 2002

[14] Jacques Derrida, Of Hospitality, trans. By Rachel Bowlby, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000

[15] Jean-Luc Nancy “L’intrus”, Dédale, 9 &10, Paris 1999, p. 440

[16] About Intrusions: Interview Annett Busch with Claire Denis (2005) /…“ p.2

[17] William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust, Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books 1984

[18] Susan Sontag’s “Illness as Metaphor”, New York: Ferrar, Straus & Giroux 1978

[19] Ibid., p.3

[20] Sigmund Freud (1908), “Der Dichter und das Phantasieren”, Studienausgabe X, Bildende Kunst und Literatur, Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1982, p. 176

[21] About Intrusions: Interview Annett Busch with Claire Denis (2005) /…“ p.2

[22] Wim Staat: “The Other’s Intrusion: Claire Denis’ LIntrus”, Thamyris/Intesecting No. 19 (2008), p. 196

[23] LIntrus, Paris: Galilée, 2000; LIntrus, translated by Susan Hanson, Drake University, Michigan State University Press 2002

[24] Wim Staat: “The Other’s Intrusion: Claire Denis’ LIntrus”, Thamyris/Intesecting No. 19 (2008), p. 196

[25] Ibid.

[26] Jean-Luc Nancy, “L’Intrus selon Claire Denis”, 4 mai 2005

[27] Martine Beugnet: The Practice of Strangeness: LIntrus – Claire Denis (2004) and Jean-Luc Nancy (2000), Film-Philosophy, vol. 12, no1: 31-48 <>ISSN: 1466-4615 online, p. 31

[28] Ibid., p. 33

[29] Damon Smith, LIntrus: An Interview with Claire Denis, senses of cinema,, p. 4

[30] Let us just remember Johan Nestroy’s play Der Talisman and the difficulties red-haired kids have being accepted.

[31] “Die Traumdeutung aber ist die Via regia zur Kenntnis des Unbewußten im Seelenleben” S. Freud Die Traumdeutung, Studienausgabe, Band II, Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1982, p. 577

[32] S. Freud Das Unheimliche (1919), Studienausgabe, Band IV, Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1982, p. 241

[33] … daß das Ich nicht Herr sei in seinem eigenen Haus. S. Freud, “Eine Schwierigkeit der Psychoanalyse”, u Darstellungen der Psychoanalyse, Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1969., str. 137.

[34] Jutarnji list 19. XII. 2013.

[35] Tennessee Williams A Streetcar Named Desire, Penguin Books, London, 2004, p. 107

Author Profile
Ljiljana Filipović

Ljiljana Filipović (born 21 January 1951 in Zagreb) is a Croatian author and philosopher.

Filipović received her Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Zagreb. Her first published work in literature was a radio play produced by Radio Zagreb in 1973. Besides writing radio plays (for which she got several prizes from Radio Zagreb). For innovation in the radio program, she received the annual prize in 2002 from Croatian radio. She taught Philosophical and psychoanalytic critique of drama text at the Academy of Dramatic Art in Zagreb from 1998 until 2013 when she acquired the position of associate professor.

Filipović is the author of several philosophical books and novels as well as numerous radio plays. She has contributed regularly to a variety of Croatian and foreign cultural magazines. Her essays and articles cover topics on cultural and political phenomena that are explained through a conjunction of philosophy and psychoanalysis. She has also translated it into Croatian books.