Trouble Every Day (2001)

Directed by Claire Denis

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Vincent Gallo can really act with his eyes, maybe not quite as much with his voice, but holy sh*t those eyes are at times frightening and magnetic.  Claire Denis takes advantage of it in this moody, disturbing, sensual cannibalistic daydream of a movie.

It’s not exactly overtly frightening but rather deliberate and discomforting, at least until you get to the first of two scenes which progress from sexual intimacy to one literally eating the other.  Like with her recent High Life there is violence found within intimacy, even such moments that don’t involve cannibalism.  To love, make love or embrace one another is to consume.

The movie feels loaded, certainly heavy, and it weaponizes the male gaze.  Gallo’s character, in several moments, leers at a woman (even his wife) in a way that clues us into his cannibalistic appetite and what he will later do.  Out of context it’s almost no different than the way women have been photographed in other movies, in that way calling attention to the way the camera often leers at the human form.  You even see it in a scene in which a woman devours a man, with the camera closely taking in his skin, filmed from so near that you’re not entirely sure what part of the body you’re looking at. It’s both loving and unnerving, particularly as that same skin is soon torn apart.

Trouble Every Day is a strangely beautiful movie, either because of or despite all of this.  If you find any thrills in such cannibalistic undertakings, well the film doesn’t prioritize those things here.  Instead we spend a lot of quiet time getting acquainted with two sets of romantic partners, each who share a secret between them.

The first is a French couple, the woman (Coré) a cannibal who wants to die and the man (Léo) a doctor labeled a quack by the medical community and who just wants to find her some sort of cure.

On the other side is a newlywed American couple, Shane and June.  Shane (Gallo) has more in mind than a romantic honeymoon when they arrive in Paris.  You just have to look at him to know that he is deeply troubled, and soon enough his behavior matches this disturbing intensity.

We will glimpse a flashback of a blood-soaked body while he cowers in an airplane bathroom, and having some understanding of the story from the premise, this immediately makes sinister all those lovey-dovey moments between him and June (Tricia Vessey).  They can’t keep their hands off each other, leading to an amusing moment in which he carries her into their honeymoon suite only to stand there anticlimactically while the maid continues to set up the bedsheets.

All of their physical affection is an ominous sign of what may soon come, basically because yeah he’s one of the cannibals.

Shane hopes to make contact with Léo, whether because he wants his own cannibalistic cure or for other reasons.  He is similarly preoccupied with thoughts of Coré, though their reunion of sorts is cut short after he has discovered the carnage of her most recent victim and then kills her when she tries to devour him.

The heart of the story is the relationship between Shane and June.  It at first would seem like she is clueless to what is going on within him, but certain moments suggest she’s aware of what he’s capable of.  In one such moment she lies naked in the bathtub with her eyes closed while Shane regards her with an expressionless gaze.  She is startled when she finally opens her eyes, but he assures her he won’t hurt her.  Later he will regard one of his victims with the same stare.

And despite the two moments of a cannibalistic buffet, the most disturbing moment in the film might actually be when Shane and June are making love and he breaks free to finish himself off in the bathroom.  Again as in High Life, Denis has a way of highlighting the more visceral, discomforting aspects of our own bodies, the ways they move and the fluids they yield.  This moment of intimacy goes quickly from tender and familiar (as far as movies go) to isolated and furious.

June will watch with sadness, perhaps some humiliation too, as Shane goes at it in the bathroom.  He will then leave in a huff, adopt a puppy, eat another woman in a locker room and then shower himself off the next morning.

With his appetite apparently satiated, he falls into June’s embrace and tells her he wants to go home.  She responds with kindness, as you might to someone sickly hungover who wants only to rest.

So the film, putting aside the sensationalist, loaded and at times challenging imagery, highlights this shared intimacy between two characters.  It’s there from the start, as Shane and June caress each other in first class on their plane to Paris, but it’s either sinister or vapid, empty gestures unless they foreshadow something deadly.  Then, by the end, it feels much more sincere, mostly just because Shane isn’t about to devour her and because June has surely understood what his strange behavior implies and yet accepted him anyway.

It’s maybe something to do with the ways two people who have been together for quite some time are made familiar with each other’s demons and accept them anyway.  Or maybe there’s something here that tells us to regard June critically, whether it’s ignorance, complicity or something else entirely.

She isn’t as involved in Shane’s darkness as Léo is with Coré.  Whereas they see each other very clearly and he works to protect her, June’s distance from Shane feels like something more disturbing, as though she is simply looking the other way.

But in the end we get the sense they might have reached the same point at which we met Léo and Coré, finally seeing each other clearly for the first time.  So is it poetic and beautiful or haunting and disturbing?  Probably both.

Up Next: Trouble Every Day (2001), Under the Silver Lake (2018), Hud (1963)

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