Trouble Every Day, the cannibal love story from Claire Denis, has perhaps the quietest opening to a film about cannibals ever. Core (Beatrice Dalle) is picked up on the side of the road by a truck driver, her grateful face soon fading into a fearful desire as she looks at him. We then cut to a man, Leo (Alex Descas), coming across the body of the driver in a field. He sees Core, crouched in fetal position in the underbrush with blood smeared across her mouth, and approaches her. They embrace silently.
And this film belongs to the same movement as Irreversible and High Tension. Who knew?
Trouble Every Day is depicted as a story of couples. There is Core and Leo. The traveling Americans Shane (Vincent Gallo) and June (Tricia Vessey) on their honeymoon. The hotel attendant Christelle (Florence Loiret-Caille) and her boyfriend. The two brain lab researchers. And the two boys who stake out Leo’s house, where Core is locked inside.
For the first third of the film, everyone is captured in relation to their counterpart. Each scene is focused on pairing people in companionship. It is when these pairs intersect that the bonds seem to break down. As fraught and strained as some of these couples are, particularly those involving our man-eaters, there is something distinctly human about the connections that drive these characters. Even if inhumanity fuels some of their carnal desires.
There is something haunting about the lead performances in the film. Gallo’s Shane speaks stilted and distant, almost fragmented at times. In a scene talking with a lab technician, the hum of a stirring machine in the background, his cadence almost comes off as alien. This is not a sign of weakness in Gallo’s performance, but a distinguishing trait that acts to further isolate his character. Gallo reads the isolation of his character like a disease symptom, one almost as cruel as the hunger that drives him.
Dalle brings a similar level of distance to her role. But it is her silence that is most frightening. Her ability to control a scene with her eyes and posture is an impressive feat, making her rare moments of speech a jolting surprise, and her moments of aggression purely devastating.
In certain scenes, Denis’ camera puts on a marvelous show, as well. When the two young men succeed in reaching Core, the sex scene that unfolds begins with the confusion of a roving closeup shot of the naked body. It is not evident until the very end of the long take what area of the body is being captured, all we see is the hair and moles on the man’s surface. This making of the body foreign creates an eerie tension, almost breeding an understanding of Core’s hunger. In this shot, the body is not attached to any consciousness, it is merely meat.
Of course, this scene plays out as one would expect, stripping away any alignment with the aggressor. But for that one beatific moment Denis strikes a resonant chord. We are given a glimpse into a larger thematic goal at play.
It is not a lofty goal, but one that attempts the arduous task of garnering sympathy for the socially reprehensible. The film tries to extend the human condition to that which is socially deemed inhuman. The characters that feed suffer. They live in a state of constant loneliness, never truly being able to get close to anyone. Their very existence is almost vampiric: tragically monstrous.
There is also a sexual element to the film’s exploration. If this truly is a cannibal love story, it is one of a complicated sexual nature. There is a duality to the cannibalism that mirrors the sexual relationships in the film.
Shane fights throughout to quell his cannibalistic desires, which causes him to put emotional distance between him and his new wife. His hiding from the problem equates to the impotence that he faces. Conversely, Core’s feeding comes out of an insatiability. It is overtly sexual in nature, perversely so. This juxtaposition causes a sharp contrast that heightens the very human stakes of the film’s unlikely protagonists.
Perhaps the most flawed aspect of Trouble Every Day is that it sets itself up for predictable results. Our introduction to some characters telegraph what their seemingly inevitable fates will be. While this does not lessen the emotional impact of the film, it diffuses the tension in the narrative itself.
The most accurate way to describe Trouble Every Day might be “elegantly depraved.” In brief glimpses, the film exemplifies its status as part of the New French Extremity, but it always returns to a state of calm. There is something more pressing at hand than merely the bodily bouts of violence that punctuate certain scenes. The film may not dive deep into the humanity of the inhumane, but it does so just enough to separate itself form its extreme film brethren.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)