Trouble Every Day: Feast or Famine
Dir. Claire Denis (2001)
Have you ever loved someone so much you wanted to eat them so that they were a part of you? Well do I have a movie for you… The New French Extremity is a film movement wherein the extremes of human emotion and brutality is explored to its fullest, giving us classics such as Irreversible, Martyrs, and Claire Denis’ 2001 film Trouble Every Day. The film is about a young newlywed couple, Shane (Vincent Gallo) and June (Tricia Vessey) who go to Paris on their honeymoon to spend some alone time together. They check into a hotel room, white linens and towels indicative of the fresh new relationship that the couple has. However, as we see bite marks on the disrobed June, we begin to feel that something darker lays beneath the surface of their love. Their relationship is paralleled with that of Leo (Alex Descas) and Core (Beatrice Dalle), a doctor and his wife who are deep into the throes of the torment that awaits Shane and June. When their lives intersect, both couples will be forever changed. The film is impeccably scripted, as seemingly all New French Extremity films are, and the direction is likewise flawless. We are initially kept in the dark about the troubles that have befallen our two couples, but the film’s main conceit of devouring love is skillfully navigated by Denis in a way that most American directors wouldn’t dare. That is, after all, a large part of the New French Extremity: making bold, courageous filmmaking choices that are not for the faint of heart and executing them immaculately. What Denis manages to do by contrasting these two couples, and later merging them, is art in cinema, and it’s beautiful to watch, regardless of the outcome. The film delves into the technothriller genre quite aptly, as the plot revolves around Dr. Leo’s discovery and Shane’s attempt to track him down, but it is more of a cannibal film than anything else, albeit an interesting take on the matter. The white cleanness from the beginning of the film begins to transform to the dirty, bloody mess that it eventually becomes, and the two couples’ fates intertwine and the demons of the past are brought to the present. It’s an erotic horror film, but in a way that makes the eroticism horrific. Dalle’s performance is incredible and incredibly disturbing, and while I hesitate to call her trysts beautiful, there is definitely an aspect of virtuosity in the way that Denis handles her artistic annihilation. Which is all a clever and falsely academic way to say that she’s supremely fucked up, and her behavior throughout the film is meant to disturb much more than to titillate. Disturb it does, but no one will hold it against you if it titillates a little as well. The film fails on a couple of different fronts, unfortunately, none of which are particularly harmful to the effect and longevity of the movie itself. First, Vincent Gallo delivers one of the most stilted performances I have ever seen throughout most of the film. It’s hard, when viewing a film of this caliber, not to chalk that up to the demands of the director, and as to whether that was called for in the script, I can’t say. What I can say is that, while all of the other actors delivered heartfelt, attention-grabbing performances, Mr. Gallo seems like he couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag. By all accounts, he’s quite a self-centered douchebag, but I’ll refrain from delving too deeply into that here. The other defect from which the film suffers is its slow-as-molasses plot. Things eventually heat up, as plots in these films are wont to do, but it certainly does not have the breakneck pacing of Frontiers, or even the meandering nihilism of Breillat’s Anatomy of Hell. There is a certain poetry about the pace in which the film operates, but it’s difficult at times to tell whether it’s poetry that the audience needs to hear. There is a difference between art and pretension, though it is a fine line to walk and one that is easily crossed. There is also nothing wrong with a slow burn movie, even one that takes hours to get to its final fever pitch. I could not, in good conscience, call Denis pretentious from this one film. I couldn’t even, in fairness, declare the pretension of Vincent Gallo through this one film. What I can say is that, whether by design or purely by talent, Vincent Gallo’s acting is inadequate and not enthralling enough to carry a film like this. If we were to get into a star-based rating, the film loses at least two stars for casting him as the lead, which is unfortunate, because the rest of the film is stellar and it’s a truly interesting concept. It is difficult, after the entire history of film, to come up with a brand new take on a subgenre of horror. While I don’t believe that you can claim that entirely with this film, it is certainly a different angle than we’ve seen in the past. It’s a capable entry into the New French Extremity pantheon, but it fails to bring itself to the top of the mountain and leaves us wanting more in a way that it will never be able to deliver. It’s a truly frustrating film, because what we get is, in large part, almost perfect… In the end, however, it’s not perfect enough, and that is as devastatingly sad as the overall message of the film. Who this film is for: Horror-as-art aficionados; New French Extremity fans; Blood freaks Bottom line: Denis has created something truly extraordinary in Trouble Every Day, even capturing one of the more disturbing scenes in the genre. However, the slow pacing and Vincent Gallo prevent the film from reaching perfection. It’s still a beautiful film, and a gem in the New French Extremity category. It’s one of those films that you know, after watching, is art, but you can’t bring yourself to completely buy into the medium on which it capitalizes. Dalle, however, delivers a virtuoso performance in the film, and all of the others in the film are just objects to tie us over until she has another scene. The most frustrating film of the genre for me, but still one everyone who is interested in French Extremity must watch for themselves.