starring Vincent Gallo, Tricia Vessey, Béatrice Dalle, Alex Descas
screenplay by Claire Denis & Jean-Pol Fargeau
directed by Claire Denis
by Walter Chaw Plaintive and sad, Claire Denis's remarkable Trouble Every Day is a rare combination of honesty, beauty, and maybe even genius. It isn't enough to say that the picture captures the barbarism festering at the core of gender dynamics, nor is it sufficient to express my frank amazement at how Denis subverts genre in ways perverse and powerful. Here's a canny director who knows the vocabulary of cinema as well as the cruel poetics of sexual anthropology; perhaps it's enough to say that Trouble Every Day captures something ineffably true about the sex act with images vital, frank, and unshakable.
We first see Coré (an oddly feral Béatrice Dalle) in a black nightie and an overcoat, standing in a field of winter wheat in a Paris landscape next to a rusted-out van. We first see Shane (a familiarly feral Vincent Gallo) on an overnight flight to Paris with his newlywed wife, June (Tricia Vessey). Because there's almost no dialogue in Trouble Every Day, we must surmise from early images that Coré has seduced and murdered--and perhaps partially consumed--a lascivious truck driver. We also uncover wordlessly Coré's husband Léo (Alex Descas) cleaning up her mess before locking her away in the attic of their Paris home.
The attic, of course, is the place for Victorian women accused of sexuality and hysteria--Jung would know it as a place of the animus and the rational. Because Coré is the very embodiment of the animalistic irrational, she spends much of her time breaking out of her room or, in one of the film's most disturbing sequences, seducing a young lad through slats of wood like a Poe mistress. We also know that Shane probably suffers from the same malady, because of the odd dream he has in the airplane's toilet and the way he nervously takes pills whenever his lovely young bride bats her eye. A bite mark on June's arm and, later, a wound on her lip, suggest that sometimes the pills aren't enough.
Trouble Every Day is about sexual frustration, infidelity, and the pain of keeping a secret from your spouse or the loneliness of keeping one with her. (As a journal of a plague born of base urges, it reminds of Larry Fessenden's inspired Habit.) The violence of the picture is as graphic as the eroticism--and there's a poignancy to that equation, just as there is something to be made of the fact that for the most part Denis locates the violence and the eroticism outside of both marriages. Legendarily gruesome and almost unwatchable in parts, the moments stickiest are the quiet ones: when Léo gently sponges his wife clean after one of her rampages, or when a green scarf is carried off by the wind after a day Shane and June spend like ordinary tourists.
There is much unspoken melancholy in Trouble Every Day, all of it carried in the chasm opening between and beneath two couples with the capacity to love one another unconditionally. Even the title speaks to the drudgery of living with uncontrollable urges that have no place in polite society; the conventions of eating and fucking already skewered in Peter Greenaway's The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover get a brutal updating here that is less political than universal. When Coré chews off a paramour's face to his pathetic yowls and excruciating death rattles, there is something so familiar--so archetypal--in the imagery that it's at once breathtaking and disturbing for its exhilaration.
Trouble Every Day causes one to examine the place of the self amidst social niceties as it satirizes the hubristic illness that allows people to separate themselves from animals--to repress base desires in ways unhealthy and unwise. It is a provocative film not for its indelible images, but for the unbearable weight of ferocious right embedded in those images. Note the crosses and arcs drawn in gore during one of Denis's and cinematographer Agnés Godard's immaculately composited tableaux, the amazing trust in the instructive power of silence and the gaze, and the extreme close-ups of the human body as it's reduced to landscapes of imperfect flesh. Denis's gift here is her ability to articulate the ways in which the creative process intersects with the procreative instinct: religious iconography described in charnel, inexpressible sacrifices demonstrated with mute gesture, and maps of strange geographies drawn on fields of skin. This is Clive Barker territory, or David Cronenberg reduced to image and totem.
Trouble Every Day is a tone poem of transgression. Its themes are grounded in the existential divide between head and body and the ways in which "consumption" and "knowledge" are consecrated words that attempt to leash unlearned compulsions under the yoke of civilization. It inspires such deep shifts in the personal fundament because it's absolutely right, even if the question is too complicated and unsavoury to articulate. It's disturbing because its essence is concerned with love, passion, and devotion: how it differs between the sexes (compare Coré's transgression with Shane's) and how, ultimately, it rules us even when we rail against it. Mesmeric and entrancing, intuitive and impossibly intimate, the picture is alive with craft, intelligence, and the absolute courage of its macabre vision. Trouble Every Day is among the finest films of the year, but handle it with care. Originally published: July 20, 2002.