Claire Denis's perverse Trouble Every Day (2001) really represents what I love in cinema: its simple premise, as a Jekyll and Hyde tale, is engrossing as an intense horror/genre picture; while its provocative and transgressive take on themes such as gender roles, sexuality, and the idea of the "outsider," move Trouble Every Day out of the sensational and commercial arena, exclusively, and into another. I imagine Denis's film sitting snugly on the shelf in between, on the left, Takashi Miike's Audition (1999) and Catherine Breillat's Fat Girl (2001), and, on the right, Walerian Borowczyk's Dr. Jekyll and His Women (1981) and Gerard Kikoine's Edge of Sanity (1989). Trouble Every Day truly is a captivating and divisive film with imagery often simultaneously beautiful and disturbing.
Trouble Every Day opens at night with an anonymous couple kissing, as the soulful music from the Tindersticks plays as the soundtrack. The night imagery continues over the Seine to reveal at dawn a beautiful woman (Béatrice Dalle) at the side of the road. A trucker stops for her, and as night falls again, the cab of his vehicle is open and empty; his corpse lays in a field; and the beautiful woman sits covered in blood in a blood-red field. Above her, a newly-wed couple sits closely aboard a plane, with Paris as their honeymoon destination. Shane (Vincent Gallo) kisses sensuously his wife's (Tricia Vessey) arm, but feeling ill, Shane goes to the restroom to compose himself, where he has a vision of a blood-drenched female. Dawn breaks again over Paris, where Dalle is now in a bedroom, where her lover is meticulously locking her windows. With the opening night and day imagery, Denis presents her tale of Jekyll looking for Hyde. Shane is Dr. Shane Brown and he knows the identity of the beautiful woman, Core. Were they in love? "No," Shane says, "that's not the right word for it. I was attracted to her." Their initial meeting took place over a year ago in Guyana, where brilliant doctor Shane went hunting for a secret serum developed by Core's lover, Leo (Alex Descas). Core has been corrupted by the serum, and apparently Shane has been also. Leo keeps Core locked away as he attempts to develop a cure, but Core escapes frequently with dire results. Shane doesn't seem as if he searching for the cure but for Core, herself. The majority of Trouble Every Day's shocking imagery involves the coupling of sex and violence. Denis shares seemingly my own view of my current culture: while we have abandoned a lot of our traditional Puritanical views towards violence, we have retained quite a bit of those views towards sex and the belief that both genders have different roles and rules in regard to sex. Not surprisingly, then, Denis reverses the traditional roles in Trouble Every Day: Dalle's Core plays the sexual aggressor, locked up and kept away from the world; while Gallo's Shane walks free, tortured by his own repression of his sexual desires. Dalle, as the former, brilliantly executes her role: in arguably the film's most shocking sequence, Core seduces a young thief through the captive wooden planks of her bedroom. Denis films the seduction and the sex scene in shadows and close shots of the two caressing, until Dalle turns violently on her partner. Alternatively, Dalle's Core is beautifully sad in another scene where Leo softly bathes her. She quietly and hauntingly whispers that she doesn't want to live anymore. Gallo's performance is also praiseworthy. The most poetic and agonizing aspect of Core and Shane's affliction is the absence of any affection. Shane cannot make love to his new wife, so he takes myriad opportunities to hug her. He gropes ladies, unsuccessfully, in the bathroom and on the subway. In his saddest scene, he purchases a puppy and holds it closely and tightly. Shane's biggest obsession and one of Denis's most interestingly drawn characters is the young maid, who works at Shane's hotel. The two have several quiet and innocuous encounters which build to the film's climax. The young maid is often shown in her domestic attire, doing her cleaning. Occasionally, she will steal some lotion or soap from one of the rooms and once, she lays in Gallo's bed and smokes one of his cigarettes. Her transgressions are minimal and not enough to put her outside of normal acceptance. Her final encounter with Gallo is shocking and also leaves the viewer with Denis's metaphor about those who step outside of their traditional roles.
Please bear in mind that it is my dumb ass which is overtly propounding underlying themes and not Denis. As I alluded to in the outset of this entry, Trouble Every Day is a seamless blend of thought-provoking drama, deeply-rooted also within the horror genre. Denis doesn't preach or push with Trouble Every Day: the film moves lyrically and leisurely with beautiful imagery and some very beautifully shocking imagery. The writing and the performances are stellar. See it.