Trouble Every Day (2001) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Trouble Every Day (2001)

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A man stops his truck, enticed by a woman who seems stranded on the side of the road.  Soon the grass is covered in his blood and smeared over the woman's face.  Over the Atlantic Ocean a doctor and his new wife travel to Paris - she for the honeymoon, he for answers to his compulsion.  Claire Denis directs Trouble Every Day from a screenplay co-written by Jean-Pol Fargeau and stars Béatrice Dalle, Alex Descas, Vincent Gallo, and Tricia Vessey.

Is this what you wantedLast week, when I watched Claire DenisBeau Travail, I was fulfilling a cinematic desire which had persisted for two years.  So pleased with the results, I decided to continue on with her films, and was recommended two, Trouble Every Day and White Material.  As Trouble Every Day was the immediate follow-up to Beau Travail, I felt it the appropriate Denis to continue my cinematic journey with.

I may be doing a disservice to Trouble Every Day by writing about it so soon after I finished watching it.  There are many movies I am able to form immediate opinions on, and some movies which need time to sit and gestate before I’m able to come to a reasonable analysis.  So I’m considering this a bit of a challenge – what about this violent, but beautifully framed and filled rich performances, film was so compelling to me in spite of the visceral material?

I look into my past for some answers.  Structurally and compositionally, Trouble Every Day incorporates an elliptical and sometimes non-linear form of storytelling I’ve seen employed in Exotica as well as the intense sadism and sexual violence of Antichrist.  Trouble every day reminds me more of the latter, but the former adds an air of uncertainty and fear to Denis’ film.

Out - or in? The metaphorical question will have real consequences before long.

Out - or in? The metaphorical question will have real consequences before long.

That there are no clear answers for the actions in Trouble Every Day can be first hinted at in Denis’ style.  She overlaps dialogue and sounds from one scene before cutting to just after an action has started in the next.  Words dangle, leaving the air of unfinished business, just as we enter a new shot which already started the next action.  So we, in the audience, are always playing an extreme form of catchup as our language centers want to finish the previous conversation or fill in noise while our visual system is receiving seemingly unrelated information.

This creates a compelling sense of distance between audience and screen, as actions as simple as taking a bath attain new mystery in this construction.  Denis’ frames are still as sparse and gorgeous as Beau Travail, but communicate isolation in a different manner.  We watch some characters primarily through bars and windows, but as their actions become clearer to us the question becomes whether the visual obstructions are keeping them in or us out.  This makes moments of what should be casual intimacy, a hug or a kiss, almost unbearably tense because we slowly learn that any moment of pleasure may explode into torturous pain in a second.

It would be unfair to call Trouble Every Day a mystery, because all the potential answers to the violent condition Coré (Béatrice Dalle) is afflicted with are there on the screen and in the dialogue.  The more important question would be, are any of the potential explanations reliable?  Denis does not make it easy for us to pin the violence on one explanation or another.  Her screenplay with Jean-Pol Fargeau dangles neurological leads as we see a brain infected with a dark growth be dissected, there’s some limp psychological explanations touched on then abandoned, and the possibility she is how she is because of her imprisonment by her husband (Alex Descas).

Instead we must look to the visuals for answers, and they are only slightly more helpful.  Coré’s story is cut with a pair of vacationing newlyweds – Dr. Shane Brown (Vincent Gallo) and June (Tricia Vessey).  Consider the way he looks at his wife, sometimes separated from her in an entirely different frame when they should be happily sharing the same space.  Then compare it to how Coré feeds off the way men leer at her, enticing them to break down the visual barriers and join as one.  Dr. Brown controls the way he attracts or repels women, Coré is kept prisoner by her husband and can only enjoy intimacy laced with violence.

Denis, with these different approaches, is playing with the way men sometimes perceive an imagined power women have over their actions.  Dr. Brown remains in control of his world, and makes his decisions according to his whims.  He is a monster by choice, while Coré is a monster because of the way she has been treated.  We can see this in the way Denis frames their separate moments of extreme violence.  Dr. Brown almost smothers his victim and explicitly makes the choice to devour her sexuality.  Coré is an approximate equal to her partner, and her wounds do not castrate her victim directly but in a violently metaphorical sense.  She creates opening to probe her victim, literally get inside his skin.  Dr. Brown just wants to devour that which he lusts after.

Denis adds small beats with strangers to introduce texture and mystery to the distant bond between Dr. Brown and Core.

Denis adds small beats with strangers to introduce texture and mystery to the distant bond between Dr. Brown and Core.

These moments, grotesquely beautiful as they are, still don’t give a firm answer.  Trouble Every Day may be beyond any conventional answer, and is more a dark mood piece about the way sexual violence is cultivated and unleashed for men and women.  By giving equal narrative weight to Coré and Dr. Brown, but by first focusing on Coré, Denis invites the comparison back to her actions and treatment instead of the other way around.  It is her story, one which her husband and Dr. Brown cruelly took over.

While Denis direction and Agnès Godard’s cinematography are the best parts of Trouble Every Day, I would be remiss in leaving out a mountain of praise for Dalle and Gallo.  They are playing different halves of the same dark drive, the former a tightly wound superego looking for reasons to relax his restriction, the latter an id contained by someone else’s superego.  Dalle, even when dripping with blood, exudes a sort of charming innocence, and Gallo’s haunting stare and precise movements left me anxious for the scene change.  Vessey and Descas do excellently as well with Vessey portraying innocence not unlike Dalle’s, while Descas embodies an aloof, loving, and dominating man in few words and stern actions.

It’s unlikely I’ll fully unpack Trouble Every Day in one sitting.  Even looking back over what I’ve written I think of the slightly aloof soundtrack, the interludes which offer more hints about what is to come, and the way the unseen labor force of the world is devoured for those more fortunate.  These are just a few of the thoughts I’ve had looking at this troubling, but powerful, story from Claire Denis.  If Beau Travail was the nightmare of desire withheld, Trouble Every Day is the result of desire unrestrained.

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Tail - Trouble Every DayTrouble Every Day (2001)

Directed by Claire Denis.
Screenplay written by Claire Denis and Jean-Pol Fargeau.
Starring Béatrice Dalle, Alex Descas, Vincent Gallo, and Tricia Vessey.

Posted by Andrew

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