Saturday, 7 July 2012
Welcome to Paris, the city of love. The city of sexual-experimentation. The city of torn off flesh, blood drenched sheets and unconsummated marriage. Trouble Every Day (2001) is the psychosexual nightmare vision of French auteur Claire Denis and its not as easily consumed as some of its secondary characters.
Beatrice Dalle plays Coré, a woman who is ravaged by a desperate hunger. The character remains a mystery until a full hour into the film. We see her as a combination of various fairytale characters. A sole shoe introduces her as the Cinderella who failed to find her prince before the clock struck a deadly twelve. Later with her shoes on her feet we see a Dorothy, whose (no place like) home is a fortress protecting her from the outside world. She then becomes Rapunzel, her young rescuers wait outside staring up at her baracaded window. However, from the off we know that Coré is not a "goodie" and to reiterate this Denis presents us with the flipside of her character - another mythical creature - a caged monster, rattling at the shutters in a rage for freedom and in a bid to quench her hunger.
Above the clouds, the honeymooners are introduced. Staring from the window of a plane in naive wonderment, Mr & Mrs Brown (Vincent Gallo & Tricia Vessey) talk of happiness. "I'm happy, are you happy? I'm happy." Mr Brown takes Mrs Brown's arm and gently rubs the veins on her wrist before kissing them and following their path. This is followed my a moment of restraint which see's Shane Brown lock himself in an airplane toilet, away from temptation, where it's just him and a horrific blood-drenched fantasy involving his wife and what appears to be their child. Shane Brown, it seems, is not the happy newlywed we initially believe him to be.
Restraint is a theme that is explored throughout by many of the characters. Leo (Alex Descas) the largely unexplained scientist responsible for the condition of the lead characters, restrains himself both professionally and sexually in his relations with Coré who is also restrained physically by Leo, her creator and captor. Shane is restrained sexually with his wife, but this can only last so long, because this is the itch that is in desperate need of scratching and boy are we going to see the aftermath of that scratch.
Denis presents Trouble Every Day as a fragmented tapestry often alluding to other films in the horror genre to make her point. The hotel in which the honeymooners stay is revealed in long lingering shots of corridors, reminiscent of The Shining (1980), that are haunting in their emptiness.
Secondary characters are unashamedly objectified. The back of the hotel maid's neck for example, the camera follows her unknowingly to the basement and then watches her undress, Denis imposes her interpretation of the male gaze directly onto the viewer whilst dually forcing them into a "Norman Bates" position. Psycho (1960) also comes to mind during the bath scene where June Brown's body is revealed from the feet up, floating in and out of focus through the cloudy bath water where she becomes the subject of her husband's gaze. June Brown herself, is Rosemary, both in style and naivety from Rosemary's Baby (1968) oblivious to the horror that exists both outside and inside of her marriage or is she? The scar in the form of a bite mark on her shoulder suggests otherwise. There is also the acknowledgement of early Hollywood's crazed scientist/monster films in the direct impersination of Nosferatu (1922) by Shane as he and June pose with the Gargoyles amidst the deep clanging of church bells.
Nicolas Roeg's exploration of grief Don't Look Now (1978) had obvious influence on the sex scenes. The close-ups of flesh become monsterous in its exposure, the camera contorts body parts beyond immediate recognition. Erwan (Nicolas Duvauchelle star of may of Denis's films) is one of two unexplained ferel characters, also heavily objectified, who picks up on the scent of Coré. So empowered with want is he, that he breaks into the fortress to realise his desires. Minutes into the scene it becomes apparent that Coré for all her vampyristic undertones is not a vampire and only when we see her mouth begin tearing away at his flesh do we realise that her urges are not sexual but cannibalistic. Following her meat feast Coré emerges as a menstrual nightmare, deeply satisfied yet covered head to toe in blood mirroring Sissy Spaceck's Carrie (1976). Both Dalle and Duvauchelle clearly enjoyed the gore of it all as both went on to later star in the gut-wrenching and similarly ensanguined French horror Inside (2007).
Little is explained of Coré and Shane's condition. Scenes in a lab, a pickled brain dissection and some emerald green medication provide clues but it is a brief flashback to the jungle that explains more in it's reference to Apocalypse Now (1979) and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Grainy footage of an isolated tropical camp pieces together the past relations of Shane and "crazed scientist" Leo. "The horror, the horror" springs to mind immediately. We're not told what happened there but what did happen clearly went very, very wrong.
As the two leads eventually collide and various characters meet their demise the blood gushes towards a head -probably the worst head you will ever have seen being given on screen. There is no doubt that Claire Denis wants us to know that this is a horror film but ultimately, it transcends the genre. The film is very heavy thematically and can be read as a metaphor for AIDS, adultery, addiction and dependency. The position of the maid is problematic in the sense that we are led to believe that she was "asking for it" yet, it can be concluded that she was mereley demonstrating that casual sex should always be considered a "risk". That being said though Trouble Every Day is not without moments of dark humour specifically the scene in which Shane pushes his "puppy" into the ladies back on the subway as he inhales the scent of her hair and the new meaning of "eating out" as defined by the climax. Francois Ozon's Les Amants Criminels (1999) is comparable in both theme and fairytale parallels but overall Ozon's offering is a light-snack in contrast to Denis's hematic banquet.
As the film closes, a trickle of blood suggests that this is not the end but the credits suggest otherwise. However Claire Denis creates films that demand a second, third and fourth viewing and are so meaty in content and subtext that they will leave you reaching a different conclusion every bloody time.