In the opening minutes of Trouble Every Day, Claire Denis compiles a series of striking and vaguely iconic images: the sexy brunette, the doomed road-side hookup, the gruesome aftermath. These images feel at home in the horror genre but the way in which they’re handled feel far from it. Denis’ trademark fragmentation refuses to make it easy on us – every close-up and every cut sidesteps exposition while seducing us with its hypnotic rhythm. From our inherent associations with these archetypes, we know nothing good will come from this truck driver’s blind lust for the sexy brunette but Denis only shows us glimpses – specifically the before and after. But of course we want to see the act itself and this carnal desire is at the center of Trouble Every Day. Our “payoff” comes in the form of two scenes that I count collectively as one of two instances (Antichrist was the other one) where a film forced me to look away.
The femme fatale is Coré, she prowls the earth in search of her next victim like a monster. Before the film tells us exactly how, we abstractly understand that Core and Vincent Gallo’s Shane – an American scientist on his honeymoon in Paris – are connected. On Shane’s flight to France, he retreats to the bathroom in a panic; There, he dreams of blood-soaked flesh suggesting without defining his connection to Coré. Whether this is meant to represent a memory or a fantasy is unclear but, like Coré, he has blood on the brain. Shane spends his days secretly trying to track down a scientist he used to work with, revealing an ulterior motive for the Parisian locale. Because Denis is dead-set on narrative sparseness, we have little idea of Shane’s history or motivations, which makes this section feel cold and stiff. Here, again, Denis is outlining a vaguely familiar trope – the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde science-experiment-gone-wrong story – but not indulging in it. It’s almost as if this section – the first hour or so of the film – is intentionally sluggish. Denis knows that we can’t help but be intrigued by the promise of sex and violence that the film’s opening suggests. She knows that we are familiar enough with this kind of story to fill in the blanks.
We soon discover that the scientist Shane is searching for, Léo (Alex Descas), is Coré’s lover. Léo has left behind the scientific community for a life dutifully cleaning up after his wife’s gruesome murders. Coré is presented as a victim of her own id – after each encounter she is left helpless and shaking until Léo comes to her aid. This marriage serves as a bleak look into the future for the hopeful young honeymooning couple. You see, Coré and Shane suffer from the same affliction, which has something to do with a failed experiment performed by Léo. The procedure resulted in a brain defect that has left them with an insatiable appetite for human flesh. The difference between them is Shane seems to be in more control of it, at least for now. Whereas Shane knows enough to lock himself in the bathroom when he feels out of control, Coré needs to be constantly confined in the attic with Léo on close watch.
Neither of the film’s two couples are sleeping together. In the case of Shane and June – even though they both desperately long to consummate their marriage, Shane knows that it would end badly. The offscreen struggle to prevent this is cleverly hinted at with light marks on June’s face and shoulder – apparently they’ve come dangerously close. What Denis is fearlessly exploring with Trouble Every Day is the idea at the core of all vampire fiction – love and lust are two overwhelming forces that are often at odds with each other. For Shane and Coré – lust is an addiction for which they are in constant need of a fix, an addiction that is constantly threatening to sabotage their efforts to love their partners.
Trouble Every Day, like most of Claire Denis’ work, is fiercely provocative and defiantly ambiguous. Aside from what the film says about love and lust, it also tells a larger story about our carnal desire to watch. Similar to Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, Trouble is designed to confront this desire. We, like the young boy who falls victim to Coré’s hunger, can’t help but wonder what would happen if he broke through the boarded up doorway and satisfied his lust. In this scene and the gruesome penultimate scene, disorienting close-ups of the victim’s skin implicate us into the dizzyingly seduction that the monsters experience. Importantly, though, the perspective of these scenes shifts once the encounter turns horrific. In Shane’s locker room scene, for instance, our eyes are locked on the housekeeper’s screaming face as she is punished for the control she has foolishly offered to Shane. We feel her pain – we too are being punished.
This is a deeply unsettling and unpleasant film. This effect, of course, is the intention and therefore it is successful. As a provocation, Trouble Every Day is brilliantly multi-layered and boldly confident. As a movie, it’s pretty hard to watch.
7 out of 10