Trouble Every Day. It’s an understated title. Almost ironic. What kind of trouble, you ask? Well, one day you’re honeymooning in Paris with your sexually estranged wife, the next day you’re ripping apart the French hotel-maid’s genitalia with your bear teeth. It’s that kind of trouble, the sort that makes you wonder whether [director] Claire Denis is having a laugh even if the subject is deadly serious.
Claire Denis tends to fair favourably with critics. She gained a strong reputation with films like Chocolat (1988), S’en fout la mort (1990), and Beau Travail (1999). But most of them hated this one. Aggregate websites Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic give it 49% and 40/100 respectively. If you want to learn how writers euphemise ‘shit’ into elaborate critical parlance, you could do worse than looking at those reviews.
What may have put people off is how offhandedly brutal this movie is. Trouble Every Day is Denis’ entry into what has come to be known as ‘New French Extremism,’ a wave of films notorious for taboo breaking and shock factor, of which directors like Gaspar NoÃ©, Catherine Breillat figure prominently. Entertainment Weekly called it ‘orgiastically gory.’ This isn’t untrue, although it implies prolonged and insistent gore. Actually, there are only two scenes that qualify, and reassuring you that they only constitute a small fraction of the running time would belie their impact, like telling someone don’t worry, the rape in Irreversible is only one scene.
Having said that, the violence in Trouble Every Day isn’t more graphic than a lot of horror films. If this is a problem it’s probably because the people who watch Trouble Every Day aren’t looking to watch a horror film in the first place. Misplaced genre elements tend to be problematic. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me should be ranked with the best, and most frightening horror films ever made, but it isn’t, because it’s reviewed as an obtuse art-house film by people who want it to play like the TV show. Trouble Every Day qualifies as horror in a literal sense, but like Fire Walk With Me, not in a genre sense, because it is studiously character based. Conversely, it is exactly this ““that the characters approximate real life- which makes it horrifying. That, and the cannibalism.
And Vincent Gallo.
If you’ve ever turned down a film because you think Vincent Gallo is a reprehensible creep, don’t worry. The good news is that in Trouble Every Day he plays a reprehensible creep, which means that actually he’s very good. (This could also mean that he isn’t very good.)
The plot of this film was criticised for being too elusive. If you pay attention, it isn’t.
Shane (Gallo) and June (Tricia Vessey) arrive in Paris on their honeymoon, but something is wrong. Shane is afraid to touch June, and instead he spends his time trying to track down Dr. Leo Semeneau (!) (Alex Descas), who has been apparently blacklisted for failed medical experiments. These, we learn, involved both his wife (BÃ©atrice Dalle), whom he keeps secure in a boarded up house, and evidently Shane himself.
It’s the details that are sketchy. The why and the how.
Shane’s role in experimental medicine is not precisely clear, nor is the origin of Shane and CorÃ©’s uncontrollable sexual cannibalism. But details here are not the point. Denis’ impressionism is every bit intentional in rendering this a visual tone poem about the confluence of Eros and Thanatos. Sure, no one is going to mistake this for Koyaanisqatsi, but in its own nightmarish, melancholic way, it is something beautiful. Large credit is due to the music by English band Tindersticks, which couples so aptly and inseparably with the images on screen, stopping and starting like a sonorous exhalation. (The soundtrack, incidentally, is far better regarded than the film itself.)
There is no doubt Trouble Every Day is very discomfiting, and that comes down as much to its lengthy silences, anatomical fetishizing, and character relationships as much as it does to any graphic violence. For those less bothered by the discomfit, it is a unique work ““albeit of oblique meaning- which confounds genre, filmed expertly by a director with a singularly peculiar vision.