03 April 2009

The Decade List: Trouble Every Day (2001)

Trouble Every Day - dir. Claire Denis

Of Claire Denis' many talents, the meticulous dispersing of the narrative is probably her strongest attribute. She understands the power in mystery, the sort of mystery that permeates without concealing or withholding. Her cinema is not born of deception but of a deliberate vision, one that doesn't concern itself with unnecessary disclosure. This approach worked in her favor with Beau travail and later L'Intrus [The Intruder], but there's some question to its success in Trouble Every Day, something which will probably never be agreed upon. Even the film's biggest admirers hint toward doubts to their fondness as the film is so oblique one begins to wonder if it only truly works through cerebral compensation. This is somewhat contradictory to what Denis presents with Trouble Every Day, which above all else concerns itself with the flesh.

What can be deciphered from the narrative is that American newlyweds Shane (Vincent Gallo) and June (Tricia Vessey) are honeymooning in Paris. Shane, a respected scientist, has ulterior motives to their Parisian destination, hoping to track down former colleague Léo (Alex Descas) and his wife Coré (Béatrice Dalle). Léo has left his medical post in order to care for his wife, who suffers from an unnamed affliction which drives her to crave the taste of flesh and which forces Léo to barricade her in their bedroom. Shane shares Coré's affliction, though he hasn't fully descended into her state of carnality.

Often associated with the so-called New French Extremity "movement," Trouble Every Day takes a deconstructive approach to its horror genre, similar to Bruno Dumont's Twentynine Palms, a film that's met with a comparable amount of hostility. Denis keeps dialogue and color to an absolute minimum, stripping the film to a state of naked vulnerability, a tableau for critique. On one hand, it's a horror film without pretense; on the other, it's an artifice for which Denis can explore her recurring themes of race, class and sexuality. She doesn't concern herself with mythology, as science and its incapacities are the film's driving/collapsing force. The film's nakedness refuses the allusion to vampirism or cannibalism, and all the history that comes with them. They can only be explained through allegory, with Shane's greed, lust and class all possible triggers for his sickness.

"You like money, don't you?" a fellow scientist (Marilu Marini) asks Shane. This is the only moment where the possible subtext is addressed in the foreground. Shane's capitalistic, opportunistic ideas of his own profession provide the clues to some of the film's questions. Has his greed begun to desire human flesh? Does he choose the chambermaid (Florence Loiret-Caille) as his prey because her social status ranks below his precious, white-as-snow wife? Is this why he rejects June's sexual advances to masturbate in the bathroom? The cause for Coré's affliction is more ambiguous. Did one of them give it to the other? Or does she merely symbolize the grinding weight white people still place on the black community?

The nakedness also functions on a visceral level. Aside from Shane's airplane fantasy of his wife drenched in blood, it isn't until an hour into the film that we actually witness carnage. Trouble Every Day's silences and desolate spacial landscape build to this point, in which Coré devours the flesh of a curious, horny neighbor boy (Nicolas Duvauchelle) in explicit fashion (her previous victim was killed offscreen). The scene is stirring and unnerving, as Dalle laughs like a hyena while picking at the boy's flesh. It's an audible and visual assault, one which is certain to provoke discomfort in the viewer. This discomfort strips the viewer to a state of vulnerability, the same daunting exposure with which Denis adorns the film. If this act gives Denis the capacity to explore both genre and her own obsessions, it's the hope that the same ability for dissection would arise in the viewer.

But maybe this is all bullshit. Both Denis and Dalle claim Trouble Every Day is a love story, and that's something I've never taken from the film. If the love story they're referring to is between Shane and June, which I'm pretty sure is, we would have to believe Shane has atoned for whatever caused his sickness, or whatever he thinks caused it. I find this hard to swallow, as the sparing of June from his cravings doesn't feel like an act of salvation as much as it does the preservation of his own evils. Does he seek closure to his past proclivities for her or to just exercise whatever is lurking inside of him? No matter your disposition toward these questions or the film itself, Trouble Every Day is Denis' most perplexing film, one whose power (or is it the opposite?) I will likely never shake.

With: Vincent Gallo, Béatrice Dalle, Tricia Vessey, Alex Descas, Florence Loiret-Caille, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Raphaël Neal, José Garcia, Aurore Clément, Hélène Lapiower, Marilu Marini
Screenplay: Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau
Cinematography: Agnès Godard
Music: Tindersticks
Country of Origin: France/Germany/Japan
US Distributor: Lot 47 Films

Premiere: 13 May 2001 (Cannes Film Festival)
US Premiere: 30 November 2001 (Los Angeles)

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