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LFF 2020 Review: The Intruder -“A great sense of paranoia throughout the film”

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The Intruder is the second film from Argentinian director Natalia Meta. It stars Erica Rivas as Ines, a voice actor who overdubs foreign language films and is also a tenor singer in a choir. After a traumatic holiday with her boyfriend ends in tragedy, Ines tries to return to a normal life but finds her all-important voice is beginning to let her down and she is unable to work properly. Attempted recordings are interrupted by unexplained vibrations and noises and she finds herself struggling in rehearsals for an upcoming choir performance. As the boundaries between reality and dark fantasy become blurred, Ines befriends a sound engineer and an organ tuner in an attempt to find out what is happening to her and what she has to do for her voice and life to return to normal.

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The titular ‘Intruder’ of the film suspected to be the cause of Ines’s vocal problems, could be many things. It could be the prescription drugs she is taking, her overbearing mother (played with great relish by Mirta Busnelli), an inability to accept a recent traumatic event or even some form of supernatural presence that has invaded her body and is preventing her from performing.

The notion of losing one’s voice and the value of that voice is at the heart of the film. It is no coincidence that suspected causes of her condition are rooted in a jealous ex-boyfriend who never stopped talking, an over-bearing mother and the revered conductor of her choir known only as Maestro. They are figures she holds in high esteem and yet they betray those feelings of love and respect. But does this mean they are somehow to blame for her shortcomings or condition?

There is a great sense of paranoia throughout the film, with no particular distinction between reality and nightmare. One intermingles with the other without ever really letting the audience know where reality begins and the nightmare ends. Dark hallways and claustrophobic sound studios close in and surround Ines, while the vast emptiness of a concert hall is in stark contrast, but at the same time oppressive, heightening a dream-like state which is broken by an out of tune organ, coincidentally being tuned to sound correct.

There is occasionally a playful sense to the film, which can be amusing, but doesn’t always dovetail with the rest of the film and here is the problem. The Intruder hints at and suggests various storylines and causes for strange goings-on and they never feel fully realized or explored. This is in no way a condemnation of ambiguous or open endings. Some of the greatest moments in cinema have come from positions of ambiguity and reliance upon the intelligence of the audience. This is to be applauded. But for such concepts to work there needs to at least have been a fair narrative exploration of these threads during the course of the film to enable the audience to embark on that journey for themselves. Unfortunately, that does not happen here.

That said, Erica Rivas’s central performance as Ines holds the film together beautifully. She manages to traverse the differing moods and themes within the film and brings great strength, charm and vulnerability to the role. She avoids obvious and easy choices, never falling into the trappings and melodrama of a performance that would pay obvious homage to Giallo. But at the same time, the film would make a great companion piece to Berberian Sound Studio.

The Intruder is a film that creates a great sense of unease, blurring the lines between nightmare and reality beyond recognition. It builds suspense, entertains and frustrates in equal measure, never fully exploring themes and storylines to the extent where an ambiguous ending feels rushed, not having provided the audience enough throughout the film to justify and earn that ambiguity.

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