It all starts with a close up of a pussy, labia and all. Nicolas Provost’s notorious opening for The Invader suggests that the next ninety minutes of film will be daring, defiant, and a trifle pretentious. Strap in.
After establishing his interest in genitalia, first-time, Belgian director Provost moves his lens onto two black men – one of whom is the domineering presence of Amadou (Isaka Sawadogo) – who both unwelcomingly wash up on the white nudist’s shore. Barebacked and breathless, Amadou looks deep into the eyes of afraid, but curious, Mrs Lady Tuppence. Escaping the turmoil of his indeterminable homeland and arriving in this new, alluring location, he is an unwelcome, perpetual outsider from the outset.
Loosely and stylistically formed, The Invader is a singular, existential drama about disenchantment with and in a metropolitan society. Moving off of the beach, illegal African immigrant Amadou struggles to find happiness in the cold harsh realities of Brussels. Sleeping on street corners and wandering aimlessly, he becomes besotted with beautiful art dealer Agnes (Stefania Rocca). Sparking up a conversation and a fleeting romance, the charming diamond in the rough Amadou is crushed when she stops returning his advances. Emotionally shattered and physically languid, he starts loosing grip of his life and alien surroundings right in front of our eyes; going to extreme lengths to win back her interest and that short lived sense of belonging.
Even with the harmonious pairing of Frank van den Eeden’s sumptuous cinematography and the beautifully menacing score from the Galperine brothers, the real star of the film is ‘The Invader’ himself. Good-looking, Burkina Faso born Isaka Sawadogo is a magnetic force on screen. Omnipresent throughout, he forms a character that is beyond good and evil, unsettling the audience who are unsure whether they are supposed to feel empathy or fear, or something else entirely for this flawed primal figure. From good-natured dreamer to unpredictable anti-hero, Amadou is simultaneously familiar and perplexing, but always enthralling.
Aside from being an art-house audience’s wet dream, Provost tackles familiar political themes of race relations and immigration. Not relying on trite filmic stereotypes, Amadou is presented as a strong, confident character, refusing to be ranked with the subordinated asylum seekers that make up the cities’ voiceless underclass. This rebelliousness makes Amadou a vicariously familiar character; adopting common problems of self worth and purpose that we all have to endure. Gaining our trust and attachment, it makes Amadou’s extreme actions feel all the more horrific and shocking.
With a name like The Invader, one expects the film to play out like a vigorous drama/thriller. Instead, visual artist Provost’s idiosyncratic debut feature unfurls like a solemn and reticent poem. Although the sparse story and pacing may be a chore for some, if you stick with it, The Invader proves itself to be an intrepid and impressive watch, which plucks on all the heartstrings and questions society’s hostility towards the other.
Nominated for CPH:PIX’s New Talent Grand Pix award and set for indie distribution across Europe, with or without the fannies, Provost looks like a director that is destined for a bright future.