TROUBLE EVERY DAY (2001) dir. Claire Denis

Director: Claire Denis
Producers: Georges Benayoun, Phillipe Liégeois, Jean-Michel Rey
Writers: Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau
Stars: Vincent Gallo, Béatrice Dalle, Tricia Vessey

Little is clear when TROUBLE EVERY DAY (2001) begins, dark and skewed imagery of the before and after of a bloody murder juxtaposed with a sustained shot of a couple groping and kissing in their car, a scene which feels even more obscene to behold than the former. Many viewers, like me, will be bewildered by such an ambiguous beginning … yet these images, perplexing as they are—and the gorgeous, brooding “Trouble Every Day,” by the Tindersticks, possibly my favorite horror-pic musical theme of all time—sum up the two most vital themes of the film: lust and destruction—and, inherent in each, raw instinct.

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Coré (Béatrice Dalle), drenched. (Image courtesy of Claire Denis and Agnès Godard.)

Mr. (Vincent Gallo) and Mrs. Shane Brown (Tricia Vessey) travel to la ville d’amour purportedly to celebrate their honeymoon. Soon, however, it is revealed that Shane is on a less than romantic mission, determined to find renowned medical researcher Léo Sémeneau (Alex Descas), who specializes in the treatment of an ailment so maligned that other physicians refuse even to speak of it. As the Browns’ sojourn to Paris stretches ever longer—and poor June Brown scarcely leaves the hotel room, more or less abandoned by her monomaniacal lover—Shane must face ghosts he believed he long left behind … and himself.

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Mrs. Shane Brown (Tricia Vessey), solitary as usual. (Image courtesy of Claire Denis and  Agnès Godard.)

TROUBLE EVERY DAY is counted among the films of the New French Extremity, a movement in horror cinema characterized by extremes, to be sure, but also by particulars of theme—specifically, the titillating and appalling intersection between sexuality, violence and, often, psychosis. Some liken the cinema of the New French Extremity to American “torture porn” (i.e. James Wan’s SAW [2004], Eli Roth’s HOSTEL [2005]), yet it seems to me that the former is more invested in transgression than the latter, often employing subversions in gender roles and the presentation of the physical body. Regardless, TROUBLE EVERY DAY is all of the above: the story of sexuality gone wickedly wrong and what it truly means to lose control.

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Image courtesy of Claire Denis and Agnès Godard.

In a sense, I appreciate the creativity of TROUBLE EVERY DAY, a strange and singular horror film, but its tendency to resort to the abstract was, in a word, frustrating. The vagueness of the opening persists through the entire film, everything spoken about and portrayed in seemingly nonspecific terms. There is “an illness.” “A research paper.” An anonymous maid, saying almost nothing. Conversation is scant. Everything is scant. For an extreme film, TROUBLE EVERY DAY was surprisingly minimalist, perhaps to its detriment when combined with such a meager plot.

It was difficult to stay invested. Every tidbit that was dropped into the film—so far apart and brief that I turned on subtitles and stared at the screen, an inch away, just to be certain that I wouldn’t miss anything—was compelling enough that I at first couldn’t wait to learn more, yet as the film went on, and seemingly pointless abstraction continued to pervade, I found myself losing interest. Like many horror films, TROUBLE EVERY DAY is more about circumstance than character development, plot-driven beyond all else—so, this weakness in plot was more costly than it might have been in a non-genre film. There were long stretches of time between hints at the plot that were comprised of artful long takes as the film moved from scene to scene, little happening and even less revealed. It made for a difficult viewing experience. While films like IT FOLLOWS (David Robert Mitchell, 2015) use anonymity to their advantage, awakening viewers’ deep fear of the alien, the inexplicable, TROUBLE EVERY DAY seems to use such non-specificity to keep viewers in the dark for as long as possible.

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One such “hint”: a photo of researcher and doctor Léo Sémeneau (Alex Descas) that Shane pulls up onscreen. (Oh, to read the article that no doubt accompanies this photo, not just the summary that viewers glimpse!) (Image courtesy of Claire Denis and Agnès Godard.)

While TROUBLE EVERY DAY lacked the sort of visceral fear and dread that I’ve come to expect from the films of the New French Extremity—especially since seeing À L’INTÉRIEUR (Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, 2007)—it wasn’t without a certain eeriness, chiefly due to Vincent Gallo’s portrayal of Shane. The depiction of Shane in TROUBLE EVERY DAY made me hate him, even with little reason to—his grotesqueness a canny foil to Béatrice Dalle’s (equally magnificent) wryly sexy Coré. Where Coré is desire personified, pouting beautifully as she lounges on her bed, trapped by her protective husband, Shane is repulsive, pale flesh smacking against his wife’s lithe body. Where Coré is seduction, Shane is predatory. Where Coré is frequently smug, Shane is sniveling, locking himself in the bathroom in a state of petulance mid-coitus. Both performances, each grotesque in its own compelling way, were undoubtedly masterful, though admittedly placed in a film which stopped fascinating me about a half-hour in.

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Shane’s (Vincent Gallo) weirdly empty gaze. (Image courtesy of Claire Denis and Agnès Godard.)

At the same time, however, TROUBLE EVERY DAY is an educational experience in the most interesting way possible for its place in the larger movement of the New French Extremity. Here, the elements of the sub-genre are clearly defined, the effects of the intersection apparent as the plot unfolds (to the limited degree that it does, that is). It suffers from abstraction that is arguably lacking in substance, yet is a standout film within a movement meant to discomfort and rile … no doubt essential viewing for any purported horror buff.

CONTENT WARNINGS:

  • Blood
  • Body horror
  • Gore
  • Sexual assault

Gore: ★★★★

Horror: ★★★

Suspense: ★★

Terror: ★

Quality: ★★★★

Overall: ★★★

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