Unrated - Cinema of the Extreme

Arthouse darling Claire Denis has never shied from including taboo subject matter as background material in her explorations involving the monotony of everyday life. NO FEAR, NO DIE (1993) was an exotic tale involving the supply of fighting cocks, The BEAU TRAVAIL (1999) tackled the subject of brutal training and male eroticism in the French Foreign Legion, and this latest DVD release from Tartan Video has Denis entwining themes of isolation, lust, and cannibalism that can be seen as a metaphor for contemporary fears relating to disease.

TROUBLE EVERY DAY, Denis’s twelfth feature, is by far the most controversial of the director’s output; it caused outrage when screened at the Cannes 2001 festival due to its intense, visceral, scenes combining sex and the consumption of flesh that reputedly led to two audience members fainting.

Vincent Gallo stars as Shane Brown, a pharmaceuticals researcher on honeymoon in Paris with his beautiful bride, June (Tricia Vessey). It’s clear there is some sexual tension in their marriage; Shane constantly eyes up other women, and spends a peculiar amount of time in the toilet whilst travelling in-flight.

Meanwhile a sexually insatiable woman called Coré (Béatrice Dalle) wanders, feral-like alongside motorway sidebanks, enticing men with anomynous sex, and viciously slaughtering them at the point of climax. Coré’s devoted doctor husband, Léo, (Alex Descas) lovingly cleans her up after each killing and disposes of the corpses. From his sad demeanour it would appear he shares a sense of guilt concerning her predicament.

It transpires that Shane has a hidden agenda for visiting Paris, and he secretly tries to track down an old experimental centre for which he was a guinea pig for a series of trial tests involving hormone development years previously. June is increasingly agitated by her husband’s creepy glances at the young chambermaid (Florence Loiret-Caille), and more so when he unexpectedly is awakened from a relaxing bath to find his frightful stare aimed at her vagina. Subtle clues, that include bite-marks on her neck and Shane’s restless nights in bed, punctuated by masturbatory visits to the bathroom lead us to the realisation that Shane is afraid to have sex with his wife, in case he causes her harm. His reassurances to his wife that “I’ll never hurt you” fail to allay her fears, as Shane turns to stalking women on the Paris Métro, and buying his wife a puppy in a feeble attempt to offer surrogate physical contact.

As Shane tries to repress his lusts, his urge to find the doctor who treated him intensifies, and this leads to a fateful encounter with Coré who by now has slaughtered several innocents in several gore-laden sequences.

The plot is ambiguous to say the least; we are never quite sure what the experiments involved, the previous connection between Shane and Coré, or whether the drugs taken by both repress their abnormal desires or feed it. Equally odd is the reactions by women when confronted by sexual predator Shane, who seem happy to submit to molestation from someone who looks like an acid-casualty of the Nixon-era.

Despite its shortcomings, the film is beautiful to watch (if wholly pretentious) the murder scenes are lovingly filmed. Agnés Godard’s camera continually mystifies the naked body so that we are unaware what part of the body we are often looking at. Arms might be legs, armpits could be genital areas, we could be watching two lovers indulging in passionate kissing or oral sex. The eroticism is definitely handled well, in part due to the lithe bodies and soft sensuality of the female leads, so much so that when sexual passions reaches their shattering climax and the act transforms to a gruesome bloodbath, we are shocked yet reminded on a subconscious, primal, level of the perverse bonding of pleasure and pain and the primitive link between sex and cannibalism. The subject is not new to the arts: Alina Reyes’s 1991 novella “The Butcher” was full of erotic edibles, as was Peter Greenaway’s THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER (1989), whilst at the lower end of the exploitation scale we have Norman J. Warren’s PREY (1977), and Vidkid Timo’s outrageous gay porn horror flick AT TWILIGHT COME THE FLESHEATERS (1998), but Claire Denis’s film is certainly the first to try and take its subject seriously.

With a fitting score by Tindersticks, understated performances by all concerned, claustrophobic direction, haunting cinematography, and unrestrained gore sequences - a sequence where Dalle laps up the blood between the folds of sliced flesh is as visually unsettling as anything José Ramón Larraz’s two female served us with VAMPYRES (1975) – TROUBLE EVERY DAY stands as an impressive example of extreme cinema that rivals David Cronenberg’s darkest examinations of the body politic.

Carl T. Ford

Directed by Claire Denis

French and English with optional English subtitles
France / 2001 / 97 minutes.

Star and Director Filmographies
Sloan Freer Film Notes
Theatrical Trailer
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A Tartan Video DVD release

All Region / Widescreen 16:9 / Dolby Digital Stereo 5.1


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