Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Trouble Every Day

This 2001 feature by Claire Denis belongs to a cycle of recent French art movies, including Marina de Van's In My Skin (2002) and Bruno Dumont's Twentynine Palms (2003), that appropriate elements of American horror movies to other ends. All three have divided audiences but Denis' film has been further marginalized by its botched distribution; after premiering at the Toronto film festival, it opened commercially at the Quad in New York and then disappeared off the face of the earth--or at least North America (in the absense of a region 1 DVD there is, however, a good, region-free DVD by a Hong Kong label with an excellent transfer and English subtitles). The aim of this essay is to pay homage to the film's nuance and seriousness. Its sensuousness, on the other hand, seems self-evident and why bother trying to do justice to the beauty of Agnès Godard's images in words when we have the film itself?

Trouble Every Day is the story of two couples. Coré/Béatrice Dalle is suffering from an unnamed affliction (basically vampirism) that compells her to feed on human flesh. The first time we see her is on the outskirts of Paris where she has an anonymous sexual encounter with a truck driver; that night, her husband Léo/Alex Descas finds her sitting in a field next to the trucker's body. The next day Léo locks the windows and doors before leaving for work as a physician, but Coré uses a drill she's hidden under the bed to escape. We first see Shane/Vincent Gallo, an American chemist, and his bride, June/Tricia Veysset aboard a plane en route to Paris where the two are honeymooning. Gradually we discover that Shane is a former colleague of Léo's and is suffering from the same affliction as Coré; he will spend the rest of the movie searching for Léo in the hope of finding a cure.

One subtext running through the film is contamination, and in particular contaminated blood, but before you write the film off as a crude, over-determined metaphor for AIDs, it's not clear how Shane and Coré were infected or if it's sexually transmitted (Shane is asked if he and Coré became lovers to which he responds: "I wish we had"). On the plane Shane starts to feel queasy and rushes to the bathroom; there he's tormented by the imaginary image of June lying in a bed under blood-soaked sheets and covered in blood. This is Shane's nightmare: his virginal bride sullied by his dark sexual appetites. It's not clear whether June is in fact a virgin (unlikely in this day and age, although she is American so you never know) though it is clear that she and Shane don't have sex; during an intimate embrace, he quickly rushes to the bathroom to jerk off so that he doesn't murder his wife like Coré murdered the the truck driver.

Denis, as always, is acutely aware of class difference and here June, who wears expensive haute couture clothing presumably paid for by Shane (it's not clear whether June works though the possibility that she doesn't re-enforces the notion of her and Shane's marriage as highly traditional), finds her mirror image in a maid/Florence Loiret working at the swanky hotel where she and Shane are staying in Paris. Denis makes this connection explicit when he cuts from the maid washing her feet in a sink in the hotel's basement to June doing the same in her hotel room. Unlike June, the maid wears too much make-up and is French so therefore definitely not a virgin (there's a shot of her boyfriend picking her up after work on his motorcycle), and Shane begins to pay her more and more attention as he withdraws from his wife, culminating in the maid's eventual rape and murder at his hands.

In the end, Shane's search for a cure hits a deadend. A sympathetic chemist/Hélène Lapiower gives him Léo's address in the suburbs where he finds Coré covered in the blood of her latest victim, recalling Shane's nightmare on the plane. Realizing Léo doesn't have a cure, he strangles Coré in despair and returns to the hotel where he murders the maid. Afterwards, June finds him taking a shower in their hotel room and he says he wants to go home. There ain't no cure for lust.

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