Arthouse cannibalism. I think that’s a decent way to start thinking about Denis’ 2001 film and only foray into a true genre piece. Originating from a script that plays like a cross between B-Horror or Science-Fiction and Parisian drama recalling a mood not unlike a Louis Malle film, the strangest thing about Trouble Every Day is that it is actually consistent with Denis’ oeuvre.
Vincent Gallo pays Shane Brown. It’s not clear until about 30 minutes into the film that he’s the main character. Gallo plays Shane as…well, he plays him the way Gallo plays every character: soft-spoken, talking with his eyes, monotone, repeating lines. It is odd to look at Gallo’s filmography. Acting for the likes of Denis, Coppola, Ferrara, and Kusturica and at the helm of such idiosyncratic indies like Buffalo ’66 and The Brown Bunny, the man has a following and makes very distinctive artistic choices (he reminds me a bit of Michael Pitt, both in acting style and these choices).
Shane and his wife June (Tricia Vessey) take their honeymoon in Paris. Their disconcerting interaction is crosscut with another husband and wife duo: Leo (Alex Descas, a Denis veteran) and Core (Beatrice Dalle).
Shane is aloof, constantly away from their hotel room, and sexually disinterested. We soon learn that he is tracking down Leo – a former colleague and loner-scientist. Leo lives alone with Core and locks her indoors every day. For good reason. Core happens to be a cannibal. And Shane happen to be in love with her (did someone say drama?).
On top of all this there are a few sidelong figures: The hotel maid, Christelle, who gazes longingly at Shane, and the two young men, led by Erwan (Nicolas Duvauchelle) who gaze longingly at Core.
So what we get from here is very much Denis. There are a few scenes of gore, but much of this plays silently, depends largely on the actors’ body language and implicit motivations and harkens to a theme that Denis revisits in films like Nenette and Boni, I Can’t Sleep, Beau Travail, 35 Shots of Rum and Friday Night. To break this theme down simply we might say that it is the tense breakdown of a relationship that is interrupted, prolonged, or caused by the emergence of a third party. That is maybe the most dry-sounding description of a theme ever written.
How about this: with nearly any Denis film you can play fill in the blanks with character names with these sentences: “________ and __________’s relationship deteriorates as ____________ obsesses over ____________. It is only until [climactic event] that ___________ can return to ___________.”
It’s like Madlibs. SPOILERS below:
Here it is for Trouble Every Day: “Shane and June’s relationship deteriorates as Shane obsesses over Core. It is only until Shane encounters Core post-cannibalism and she burns alive that Shane can return to June.” It works! Hurrah!
The B-film element in here is strong and Denis doesn’t seem too concerned with it. Grainy flashbacks show arguments between various scientists, complete with lab coats and petri dishes, arguing over the radical scientific approaches being undertaken. Much of this is laughable. It actually feels plugged in, and these make up some of my least-favorite Denis moments. Nonetheless, they are expository and move the narrative forward. It is largely this, and the aforementioned venture into a genre film, that makes Trouble Every Day experimental within Denis’ career. She seems intent on making this a horror film, even when her tried and true, and quite good, technique wants to pull her in the opposite direction. An example:
Another demarcation of a Denis film is her focus on extreme close-up shots of skin/body. We don’t always know what part of the body we are looking at. This is generally during a sex or emotional scene. The scenes tend to linger, be handheld, and be dominated by only diegetic, slightly exaggerated sounds. While you can find this in many films, it’s really taken to its perfect extreme in Friday Night. Trouble Every Day utilizes at least two such sequences. One is quite romantic (at first) and feels like a foreshadow of that usage in 2002’s Friday Night. The other is the example of Denis oscillating between a “Denis film” and a genre work. This is the first on-screen example of cannibalism. Erwan finally breaks into Core’s house when Leo is gone. They begin to make love and Denis shoots it as described above. It’s both tender and intense, but because the audience has knowledge that Erwan does not (for all you screenwriters out there!) it’s also dangerous. Gradually the tone of the scene shifts and Core begins to do her thing. A little nibble here. A little nibble there. The catch is that, as the scene starts to get graphic and bloody, Denis doesn’t shift her focus or camera. She shoots it exactly as she would a love scene. One of the final shots: Core picking at a flap of skin on her victim’s neck, reminds of a loving post-coitus moment where a couple playfully kisses or smokes a cigarette.
Denis makes comparisons throughout between Shane and Core, and her strongest uses the minor characters Erwan and Christelle. Core kills/eats Erwan and is subsequently burned alive. Shane kills/eats Christelle at the end and is subsequently born again. He replaces Core. Is the cannibalism a disease that is spreading? Is Shane going insane? Or is he so obsessed with Core that, despite his disgust at her cannibalism, feels closer to her even now that she is deceased, if he carries on her “routine”? Is the cannibalism in here a metaphor for anything? I looked for it. The analogy of love or sex is easy. It’s there – literally. The answer to these questions are, I think, simple. Denis’ film plays best from a horror-perspective as devoid of much metaphor aside from the easy and obvious. This is meant to be a horror film. The horror is horror.
I like Trouble Every Day as a Denis fan. It’s always great to see a director work out of their comfort zone even if, in this case, Denis can’t or doesn’t stretch too far.