El Profugo | The Intruder (2020) *** Berlinale 2020

February 21st, 2020
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir. Natalia Meta | Cast: Érica Rivas, Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Daniel Hendler, Cecilia Roth, Guillermo Arengo, Agustín Rittano, Mirta Busnelli Argentina/Mexico |94′


The Intruder is Argentina’s equivalent to Berberian Sound Studio. But while wacky and wildly entertaining in its own original way, Natalia Meta’s Golden Bear hopeful doesn’t come together with quite the same success as Peter Strickland’s 2012 cult classic giallo. This is more of a comedy giallo thriller. Tonally it’s all over the place, but full of interesting ideas.

There is certainly a compulsiveness about this second film from Natalia Meta, who delighted us with her detective thriller Death in Buenos Aires back in 2014. Based on C E Feiling’s novel of the same name, the main character Ines (Erica Rivas from Wild Tales) is clearly going through an existential crisis, unable to pin down a health concern that may or may not be psychosomatic. But it starts after her annoying boyfriend Leopaldo (Daniel Handler) jumps off their hotel balcony while the couple are enduring a not so successful romantic first mini-break in Mexico.

Ines is a VoiceOver artist who also sings in a classical choir. Scenes in the sound studio are occasionally nightmarish – as they were in Berberian – in contrast to those in Buenos Aires’ magnificent modern concert hall which provides a sense of spacious stability, or so it seems at first. But soon Ines’ dreams are taking over, and buzzing and crackling intervene during her voiceovers in the studio. Where is it coming from: an intruder, or her own mind? Strange snake-like objects writhe through her bed at night. Is this penis envy, or is she just desperate for sex? Both seem possible reasons for her mental meltdown, and they constantly play on our own subconscious while watching this weird film. And don’t feel you’re patronising the intelligent heroine by tittering, because this is after all Meta’s intention. A dark vein of humour runs through the narrative, but it gradually turns to tension when Ines gets more and more traumatised by her mysterious malady de coeur. A visit from her surgically enhanced mother (a superb Cecilia Roth) is also a big stress factor, adding a telenovela-ish vibe to proceedings. Is this woman in competition with her daughter, or just seriously devoid of anything better to do than rummage through her draws.

Meanwhile back at the concert hall, the re-tuning of the large organ starts to dominate the girls’ rehearsals (more Freudian overtones) and soon reality and delusion start to melt into one, luring us on and on in a frenzy of expectation and frustration. Medical tests are inconclusive and even magnetic tests show that Ines’ body is emitting a high level of magnetism. When Ines finally meets meets the illusive organ tuner Alberto (Nahuel Perez Biscayart of 120 BPM fame) during a tango soiree she is smitten. But the mesmerising blue-eyed boy is rather enigmatic, although clearly keen to pursue her romantically – so should she just lie back and think of Argentina?.

A powerfully sinister soundscape is one of the overriding impressions of the quirky curio, which feels rather old-fashioned visually, tying in with its giallo undertones. So go with the flow if can and suspend your disbelief, The Intruder is certainly a compelling way to spend an hour and a half. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 20 February to 1 March 2020 


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