TROUBLE EVERY DAY

Directed by Claire Denis

Written by Denis and Jon-Paul Fargeau

With Beatrice Dalle, Alex Descas, Vincent Gallo and Tricia Vessey

Distributed by Lot 47 Films

***1/2



Claire Denis isn't Georges Franju, Mario Bava or Dario Argento, but she's made a horror film on her own, distinctly European terms. Few American directors would bother with such an arthouse/grindhouse synthesis. (Maybe M. Night Shyamalan, who shoots pulp narratives in the style of a Taiwanese art film, comes closest.) With WENDIGO, Larry Fessenden largely failed. Underneath a fashion-ad surface, BEAU TRAVAIL had plenty to say about the travails of masculinity. What does TROUBLE EVERY DAY have to say about vampirism? A set of prefab clichés: sex and violence are connected (bring on the obligatory rape scene), and the condition is a metaphor for addiction (not to recreational drugs, in this case, but to the large variety of pills Gallo's character, Shane Brown, keeps popping to keep his violent impulses under control.) Viewing it an AIDS metaphor would probably be special pleading. But on the level of images and emotions, it has real pull.

TROUBLE EVERY DAY tells two stories in parallel. Denis and Fargeau's narrative is elliptical, trusting the spectator to fill in the gaps, but completely coherent. (They devote a lot of screen time to a seemingly minor character who figures heavily in the finale.) Coré (Dalle) has become a vampire/cannibal as a result of an experimental drug that her husband, Dr. Leo Semenau (Descas), tested on her. This drug seems to cause the urge to kill during sex.  Leo does his best to protect Coré from herself, but she sneaks out to commit murder and feed on her victims' blood. Even when left inside, she's able to kill a teenage burglar. Meanwhile, Shane  has come to Paris in search of Leo. Ostensibly, he and his wife (Vessey) are there on a honeymoon, but he leaves her alone much of the time and interrupts sex with her to masturbate in the bathroom (leaving an impressive amount of cum on the bathtub and wall.). A former colleague of Leo's, he frantically searches for the doctor, without much luck.

Vincent Gallo has appeared in 3 Denis films: this one, U.S. GO HOME and NENETTE AND BONI. In a 1998 interview with CAHIERS DU CINEMA, he expressed contempt for actors who can transform themselves for each part and a preference for those who always maintain the same persona. To a large degree, he was talking about himself. Shane isn't at all convincing as a research scientist. Scruffy, tense, monolingual, impatient and more than a little pushy, he represents American can-do spirit with a bit of heroin chic thrown in.

The symbolism of TROUBLE EVERY DAY may not break new ground, but the film has style to burn, as well as   emotional substance. First and foremost, it's a film of textures (especially skin) rather than oneabout anything. Cinematographer Agnes Godard doesn't "shoot" the actors' bodies. Her camera caresses them (even during violence.) Far more than BEAU TRAVAIL, this film's sexuality is polymorphously perverse. In one scene, Gallo and Vessey's bodies become so intertwined that they're indistinguishable. As critic Bryant Frazer describes it, "As Vessey bathes, the camera tracks up her legs and thighs to her pubic hair, pivots slowly as it crawls the rest of the way over her torso and shoulders. The visual rhyme comes nearer the end of the film, as Beatrice takes a lover who has come to liberate her from the prison of her husband's making, and, unwittingly, sacrifice himself to her. The camera tracks across tufts of chest hair, magnified to enormous  proportions on the movie screen, lingers on a dark nipple, then twists  downward over the slowly heaving skin so that we're not sure whether
  we're heading up the neck or down the belly." If the film has provoked love-it-or-hate-it responses, one reason may be that it  sexualizes gore.

BEAU TRAVAIL ended with an image of ecstastic release from military ritual. A more conservative film, TROUBLE EVERY DAY presents the flipside of such liberation - or, perhaps, the body succumbing to another form of regulation. In this instance, it's biological rather than social, albeit triggered by a scientific mishap. (Paging Mr. Cronenberg!) In the age of antidepressants whose most common side effect is  libidinal, I suppose TROUBLE EVERY DAY is  an anti-drug film. The pleasures of the flesh come with more than their fair share of danger. The fragility of skin lies beneath all those loving shots of it. (Even in the very first scene between Shane and his wife, the underlying potential for vampirism is hard to miss.) Here, Denis and Godard's images connect with the film's heart. (The Tindersticks' moody score also helps.) Both Leo and Shane do their best to protect their wives from danger: Coré from her own worst impulses in the former case - even at the cost of her freedom - and Leo's wife from his own in the latter. The results are failures at worst and ambiguous at best. Despite the violence, one walks away from TROUBLE EVERY DAY with an overwhelming melancholy. It just might be the saddest gross-out movie ever made.