The Invader: Venice Film Review

Ambitious, surprisingly successful attempt to combine tough urban thriller with edgy socio-political parable.

Dark Belgian pic from visual artist Nicolas Provost is more of a thriller and less an avant-garde art piece than one might expect.

After several years reaping awards and acclaim for his experimental shorts, Belgian visual artist Nicolas Provost now makes a promisingly bold transition to features with The Invader. The film’s desire to provoke is blatantly evident from its very first shot: a close-up of female genitalia, a startling image which is also a highbrow nod to Gustav Courbet’s 19th century painting, The Origin of the World.

But while this opening sequence and the credits which follow promise a movie of avant-garde weirdness, what Provost actually delivers is mostly a surprisingly straightforward crime-drama that could even function as a calling-card for a Hollywood studio gig, should that be the direction he next wants to take.

Slickly accomplished and anchored by an outstanding central performance by the imposing Issaka Sawadogo, this offbeat picture will be a surefire talking point at festivals especially those also showing Steve McQueen’s Shame, with which it happens to share certain key thematic and visual parallels. Art-house play in Francophone territories beckons for this film punctuated with frank nudity and resolutely unglamorized violence.

Much of the latter is meted out protagonist Amadou (Sawadogo), a swaggering bull of a man who makes his way from an unspecified African country to work illegally in Europe. He finds a tough construction job in Brussels, which involves wielding an enormous drill, the first of several instances where Provost deploys overt phallic imagery with semi-ironic directness.

Amadou is a man on the make, both financial and sexually, so it isn’t long before he’s engaged in a steamy affair with a sophisticated, white European woman – Stefania Rocca’s Agnès. When this liaison turns sour, Amadou’s fortunes quickly deteriorate. A chap who has previously been a potentially model EU citizen – hard-working, caring, conscientious, intelligent, resourceful – spirals into bloodshed and murder. Whether this change involves some revelation of Amadou’s true savagery, or whether he is haplessly driven to desperate acts by capitalist Europe’s callous cruelty, is a matter for debate.

Provost and his co-writers, Giordano Gederlini and François Pirot, knowingly play with cultural and economic stereotypes -- specifically, the bygone idea that powerful black men long to “invade” both the European continent and the bodies of its women – in a manner which some may find offensively glib. But they do so within a context that manages to be at once gritty and plausible and intriguingly fantastical.

Indeed, it’s hard to know what, if anything, to take at face value – the very final shot casts into doubt absolutely everything we’ve seen up to this point. What isn’t in question, however, is the magnetism and physical intensity of a multi-layered performance that deserves to propel Sawadogo towards stardom. He’s a charismatic combination of menace and easy charm here, superbly cast as an intelligent man who, for all his power and indomitable determination, is really a cork on the capricious tides of fate.

Amadou’s urban wanderings are imaginatively captured in relentlessly pin-sharp detail by cinematographer Franck Van den Eeden, whose cool digital images effectively and amusingly endow the oft-derided European capital with a dangerous night-town edge.
 
Venue: Venice Film Festival
Production companies: Versus Production; Prime Time; Hepp Film
Cast: Issaka Sawadogo, Stefania Rocca, Dieudonné Kabongo, Tibo Vandenborre, Serge Riaboukine
Director: Nicolas Provost
Screenwriters: Nicolas Provost, Giordano Gederlini, François Pirot
Producers: Jacques-Henri Bronckart, Olivier Bronckart
Director of photography: Franck Van den Eeden
Production designer: Françoise Joset
Costume designer: Nathalie Leborgne
Music: Evgueni and Sacha Galperine
Editors: Nico Leunen
Sales: BAC Films, Paris
No rating, 94 minutes

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