Dir: Claire Denis. France. 2000. 99 mins.
Claire Denis tiptoes perilously close to Golden Turkey land with this ponderous study of insatiable desire and twisted eroticism, which will command initial interest from buffs on the strength of its director's previously impressive track record (Chocolat, I Can't Sleep, Beau Travail) and may lure the prurient with its lurid sex 'n' cannibalism agenda. But the lugubrious tone, combined with the lack of narrative logic and interesting characters results in a swift descent (or ascent) into grand guignol. Mostly shot in English, the film is unlikely to attract much critical support and will need to establish itself as a sensational cult item to do any kind of business.
An inordinately long and languid exposition introduces the main players. A predatory young woman, Core (Dalle), picks up a truck driver in a motorway lay-by outside Paris with bloody results for him; she is subsequently rescued by a guy on a motorbike (Descas), who takes her to his home and locks her away. We also meet Shane Brown (Gallo) and his new wife (Vessey), who are flying from America to Paris for their honeymoon, as well as a chambermaid going about her routine business at their plush hotel.
Not a lot else happens in the film's first half. Very, very gradually it emerges in a sprinkling of grainy flashbacks that the man on the motorbike is Core's husband, Leo, a doctor who had earlier been involved in dangerous medical experiments on the human brain and the libido. He has now fled from the laboratory where he was working, and gone in hiding as a humble general practitioner, while attempting to sedate and care for his wife. She has been deeply damaged by the project, and now harbours an irresistible urge to seduce and then eat people. Shane, also a physician, had worked with Leo and (as a love bite on his wife's milky neck suggests) suffered similar effects. He's now mighty anxious to track down the missing doctor and his wife.
Large tracts of this back story remain baffling. The exact nature and purpose of the research is unclear, as is the relationship between Shane and Leo, though we gather that the former had stolen Leo's findings for commercial gain. Since the two men never meet on-screen, a scene which might have given the film a degree of focus, it's difficult to form much of a view on this matter.
Nor, for all its longueurs does the film manage to find a moment to explain why Leo should have remained immune to the fall-out from the experiment which so disastrously affected his collaborators. In fact this key character abruptly disappears from the story well before the end. Above all, and despite a copyline which hints provocatively at a link between passion and cannibalism ('I love you so much I could eat you') Denis offers no reason why the attacks are always directed at strangers.
But then the film makes no claim to be a medical thriller. The make or break point for viewers will occur around the hour mark, as it plunges into explicit gross-out territory. Core, who is obviously not taking her medication and keeps a chainsaw stashed under her bed, and later Shane indulge their cravings with unlucky strangers. The savagery of these attacks doesn't need to be detailed here; suffice it to say that when Shane eats pussy it's not in a manner designed to give much pleasure to his partner.
While there's no doubt that these scenes are unpleasant, they're never seriously disturbing or indeed even particularly erotic. The characters are so thin and the forces driving them so sketchy that their compulsions merely seem absurd and in the end rather ridiculous. One masturbation sequence involving Shane and his wife in their hotel bathroom bears an unfortunate resemblance to a notorious sequence in the Farrelly Brothers' comedy The Trouble With Mary, although here the laughs are presumably not meant to be intentional. Performances are uniformly uninvolving. Both Shane's milk-fed, all-American wife and the haunted Leo are given little to do (though Descas does manage to bring some gravitas to this character). In a film light on dialogue, Dalle has virtually no lines and mopes around in between meals with a lunatic look on her face, while, in what emerges almost by default as the film's dominant role. Gallo pads through Paris looking glum in a rather bad haircut.
The funereal music and Agnes Godard's muddy photography don't exactly add to the gaiety of the piece. Overall, like Hal Hartley's equally ill-received monster movie No Such Thing, Trouble Every Day illustrates the perils involved in giving B-movie material the arthouse treatment where the vitality of the genre material is suffocated by intellectual pretensions. One trusts that the perfunctory final pay-off line is not meant to pave the way for a sequel.
Prod cos: Rezo, Messaoud/A Films with Arte, Dacia, Kinetique.
French dist Rezo.
Int'l Sales Wild Bunch.
Prods Georges Benayoun, Jean-Michel Rey, Philippe Liegeois.
Co-prods Kazuko Mio, Seiichi Tsukada.
Scr Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau.
Cinematography Agnes Godard.
Prod des Arnaud de Moleron.
Ed Nelly Quettier.
Main cast Vincent Gallo, Beatrice Dalle, Tricia Vessey, Alex Descas.