Trouble Every Day

Director: Claire Denis (France, Germany, Japan, Luxemburg). Year of Release: 2001

Paris, dusk. The sort of lighting that means that a city is either going to sleep or that it is just waking up. A truck stops for a woman. A little later, a man arrives on a motorcycle. The cab of the truck is empty, but it does look like the key is in the ignition. Nearby, the man finds the truck driver’s body next to a woman in a state of exhaustion and elation, face covered in blood.

A plane, somewhere over Denver. Shane and June are on their honeymoon and spend more time than is seemly telling each other how much in love they are. Suddenly Shane gets taken queasy and locks himself in a toilet. After he’s been in there for quite a while, the stewardess knocks on the door asking if he’s feeling ok. Cut to Shane inside, having visions of June covered in blood.

There’s a certain opaqueness about Trouble Every Day, but here’s what seems to be happening. Shane is looking for Léo, a doctor whose work on sexual desire borders on the unethical. It is Leo who we saw in the opening scenes, retrieving his wife Coré from the truck stop and returning to the room where he keeps her boarded up. Coré appears to have an illness, presumably as a side effect of Leo’s work, that causes her to first seduce, then eat people.

We see Coré’s illness at play when a pair of delinquents break into her house. While his mate stays downstairs, one of them goes up towards her room, and – hearing her siren calls – breaks down the door. At first they have loving, consensual sex while she nibbles on his chin, then his finger … then his throat. It is not long before the room is drenched in blood. The scene is all the more creepy for being filmed with the camera only a couple of inches away from the protagonists.

Later on, we see Shane enact a similar scene. We have already seen him rubbing himself up against a female traveller on the bus, and locking himself away when his desire for June seems to have got too high. This time, he corners a maid at the hotel where they are staying while she is changing out of her uniform. What follows is unsettling and very rapey. You do wonder that if the director had been male, rather than Clare Denis, we would have found this remotely acceptable.

My film-going partner assures me that Vincent Gallo, who plays Shane, is good looking. I must say, he never did it for me (I’m sure he’ll be devastated) nor did most of his film career, despite him being in that great film with Johnny Depp, Faye Dunaway and her out of Six Feet Under. This time round he’s got the mop of hair and moustache that even Donald Sutherland found it hard to pull off. They don’t do Vincent many favours.

Meanwhile, as Coré, it’s the answer to the question “whatever happened to Béatrice Dalle?” Trouble Every Day was released 15 years after Dalle found her place on slightly pretentious adolescent boys’ bedroom walls after her debut performance as Betty Blue. Looking at her filmography, it seems that she has found steady work since then, albeit not necessarily in films that anyone has heard of.

Whatever, Dalle seems to be perfectly suited to the role of Coré. Particularly in the scene where she literally devours the young housebreaker. She is carnal, lascivious, there is almost an animal quality to her which means that you can fully conceive of her feasting on her prey. Coré regularly apologises for her behaviour after the event, saying that she’s ill, but when she’s in the moment, Dalle’s eyes perfectly capture her unrepentant craving.

While we’re doing this, maybe we should give some praise to Tindersticks who wrote the film’s score. Although this is the first time I’ve seen the film, I’ve had the soundtrack for over 20 years, pretty much since it came out. Tindersticks had released what to me are maybe the greatest first 3 albums produced by any act ever. By 2001, they were on album 4 or 5, and at the start of a decline which meant that their albums had one or two very good songs and quite a lot of filler.

While this may result in quite disappointing normal albums, it can work very well for a soundtrack, especially as most of the music is just variations on the same song. The title track, an ominous piece in 3 / 4 format haunts us, and reappears throughout the film in several formats. The music plays a significant role in making the film seem as eerie and alienating as it is.

Some reviews have dismissed Trouble Every Day as being simply dull. Others have ecstatically detailed its hidden psychosexual message. I don’t believe that either approach does the film justice. It does unnerve us for reasons that, if we could identify them, would probably reduce the effect. At the same time, it can be occasionally a little too much up itself. So do go along, try to go along with the flow (otherwise you may well hate it), but don’t excuse it’s inherent pointlessness.

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