Slow, anguished gazes, looks of love that mask inner pain, quiet reflection, a rain-swept street at night, vicious cannibals eating living human flesh ... ah, the elements of artistic cinema.
Director Claire Denis is best known for her work on such films as Beau Travail and J'ai Pas Sommeil (released in the U.S. as I Can't Sleep). Her style is decisively singular and compelling, emphasizing a sort of quiet pain. There are long, silent stretches in her films, and two characters will often occupy a scene for several minutes without talking to each other.
Nonetheless, these scenes often carry more information than the talky scenes common in American dramas, because Denis manages to evoke a great deal of significance from the movements of bodies and the restrained looks of her actors. That she can pull off these silent conversations is perhaps her greatest skill as a director.
She also makes excellent use of music, choosing minimalist tracks to accompany the minimalist action. Combined with cinematographer Agnès Godard's incredibly precise camera work, these elements create such a tightly cohesive world that it's impossible not to be completely enraptured. You know, until the vicious flesh-eating cannibal scenes. Then it's hard not to be a little grossed out.
Trouble Every Day is Denis' first foray into the cannibal-movie genre. Oddly, every other element of this film is in keeping with her earlier work, so it's more a film about the vague discontents of being alive than about the horrible discontent of being eaten alive.
Vincent Gallo stars as an American scientist on a business trip to Paris. Tricia Vessey is his beautiful, and much younger, wife. There is some kind of undefined tension in their relationship, and Gallo is definitely keeping something secret.
In Paris he begins seeking out Léo (Alex Descas), a researcher he'd worked with on a secret project some years earlier. Léo, though, has largely vanished from the scientific scene so that he can devote his attentions to his wife, Coré (Béatrice Dalle), who is very ill. Well, if by "ill" we mean "into eating human flesh."
All this makes Trouble Every Day the strangest cannibal picture since Ravenous. Two things set Trouble apart. First is the incredible beauty and sensitivity of the majority of the film. When no one is being eaten alive, Trouble is one of the most effective representations of the pain of every day living that's ever been put on film. The second thing is the incredible horror of the cannibal scenes. These occupy only a small portion of the movie's total length, but they are amongst the most horrifying things I've ever seen. It's not just that they are incredibly graphic. That alone no longer shocks moviegoers. What makes the scenes so disturbing is the response of the victims. They scream, thrash and cry out in protest in such a convincing manner that the whole thing seems hauntingly real. The pathos of the acting is so intense and so viscerally affecting that it's difficult to get any kind of aesthetic distance from the terror on screen.
I suppose this is the idea. Denis is so good at conveying emotion that she just naturally makes the horror more horrifying. Trouble Every Day is thus able to completely transcend genres, because, while it takes elements from slasher films and horror films, its focus is so completely different that it really can't be compared with anything in those genres.
It's really an example of expert filmmaking in an entirely unique style. This doesn't mean I'd recommend going to see it; you have to have a pretty strong emotional constitution to deal with this movie. And, of course, the people who like quiet art films about human feelings are not generally the people who like seeing graphic scenes of blood-spattered mayhem. Nor are slasher fans usually big art-film fans. So I'm not sure exactly who the audience for this is, unless it's just people who appreciate skill in filmmaking.
Or maybe it's for big fans of stars Dalle and Gallo. Both have cult followings, Gallo from his work on such films as Buffalo 66, and Dalle from her lead part in Betty Blue. Gallo is excellent in this movie, though Dalle is perhaps a bit overwrought. Still, that's her shtick, so if you liked her work in other films you'll appreciate her here as well. Gallo, on the other hand, is probably better here than he usually is, because Denis' spare directing style keeps him from talking too much, so he never goes into one of his convulsing, twitchy speeches. He's also incredibly beautiful, with his accented cheek bones and elongated features, and Denis makes good use of Gallo's odd features.
The supporting actors are all equally excellent, partially because of Denis' direction, partially because they're French, and, you know, the French are just way cool. Still, in spite of its being one of the better made movies of the year, I'd have to warn any potential viewers that this is one of the most disturbing things I've seen lately, and I've just come from seeing John Ashcroft naked, crying, covered in canola oil and hugging an enormous Miss Piggy doll.