The Invader: 2011 AFI Film Fest

By Ryan Mason · November 7, 2011

From its mesmerizing and shocking opening shot, The Invader immediately places us into another world, clearly one not typical for American audiences. It’s not normal that I wouldn’t want to ruin the very first frame of a movie – or even consider that as “ruining” anything — but I’d feel wrong about going into it in detail here. If you see the film, which I recommend you do, I’d want you to have the same surprising experience as I had.

Filmmaker Nicolas Provost makes his feature debut with this tale of an illegal African immigrant named Amadou living in (presumably) France, forced into a sort of indentured servitude to pay back the four thousand Euros that it cost his employer to put together his citizenship paperwork. But, once his sick friend disappears from their housing quarters, Amadou loses it and heads out into the world on his own where the film goes down much different paths than expected.

Everything in this film hinges on the performance of Issaka Sawadogo, who is absolutely captivating as Amadou. He’s in nearly every single shot and you can’t help but keep your eyes fixated on him, whether in the beginning when you feel wronged yourself at his astonishingly poor circumstance, to being frightened as you realize just what madness lies underneath his surface. While he is our protagonist, it’s actually through the wealthy Agnes (Stefania Rocca) that we experience the full character development of Amadou – who introduces himself hilariously as “Mr. Obama.” Amadou charms his way into her life through his confidence and smooth talking, charming us along with her. So when things take a dark turn, we’re as put off as Agnes, more concerned and frightened than angry as Amadou’s grasp on reality fractures as he becomes consumed by his obsession.

The Invader is an oddly paced film with extremely expressive music and sound design, which paint the scenes, which alternate between tense interactions and languid interludes. At first the moments of Amadou simply walking around this western European city, sleeping on benches, and riding the train, all add a nice texture to the film. The haunting, European-style electronica-influenced score transforms seemingly innocuous moments into ones filled with a looming sense of dread or worry. However, as the film progresses and we expect it to be gaining steam, these moments of non-plot seem to clog up the momentum that Provost had been expertly building. It’s not quite enough to pull you completely out of the film, but it manages to remind you that you’ve all of a sudden become a bit restless in your seat.

Provost manages to not let it go completely off the rails, however. While, at first, we sympathize for Amadou’s situation, more and more we know that his past will catch up to him in some way and it won’t be good. After all, this is an European film, not a Hollywood tale, meaning that it’s much more acceptable for things to end up just as messy – if not more so – than how they started.

And what an ending The Invader has. While you’d never guess that would be where Provost’s intriguing film would finish upon seeing the opening frames, it’s interesting, in retrospect, how many parallels there are to the first scene. It’s one that left the audience expelling an exasperated chuckle, unprepared for that last shot to cut to black. One that will leave you wondering about what you just saw. All in all, The Invader is one hell of a way to leap onto the international feature film scene.