Monday, December 19, 2005

"It's on the inside, so don't try and understand."

Last night I watched Trouble Every Day. I've seen it before. I actually own it. And I must say that I have also written about it before. The little essay-esue rant which I wrote for a installation show of mine focused purely on the metaphorical cannibalistic element of the film, linking it to thoughts on Armin Meiwes ("Germany's cannibal killer") and Edvard Munch's The Kiss. There's a little story to my first experience with Trouble Every Day, too. A friend and I wanted to see it so badly (when I was living in Portland, OR) that every time we went into this Mecca-video store, we would ask/implore on the status of the film. See the was released in theaters, but because the distribution company folded (and perhaps for additional reasons), never hit R1 home video. It still hasn't. So I finally saw it when I moved to Los Angeles and acquired a region free DVD player - even still I had to be put on a list for this coded DVD. Short story long, for three years this was a VERY difficult movie to come by. So one's perception of the film is obviously subject to this "quest" to see the film.

My first impression was that of disappointment. Trouble Every Day is certainly a loosely presented film. The script is barebones and the acting at times positively atrocious. I extended all of this labor for a mediocre film? It is important to understand its context in contemporary French cinema, though. Trouble Every Day came out during the high reign of "French Extreme Cinema," and it follows many of the implicit guidelines of this sub-genre: Loose structure, shallow characters existing solely as thematic stand-ins, a violent current that strips the viewer of all comfort levels so that the film is viewed in the most vulnerable state. Trouble Every Day certainly delivers on all of these fronts. I had forgotten how graphically violent it was. I suppose because the violence is SO allegorical, I always construe the sequence as a sex scene rather than a killing. But after Core has consumed her victim, you certainly are stripped to a more weary state of observation. It is also a wonderfully critical homage to exploitation horror cinema. It explores, quite frankly, the trouble with the simplicity of exploitation horror with very quiet asides and - in faltering the film's own structure it functions as a larger critique of this genre. The plot structure is so simple that it becomes a mere suggestion. With the whole genre, I joke that you will glean more reading the box cover than from actually watching the film (plot wise). And here, all we ever get are suggestions of a plot that we already know all too well. It's not necessary to the film. The film thrives on our prior knowledge of the horror genre, offering us an explanation for other similar films while poeticizing its use of their structures.

What's funny about Trouble Every Day is how much it pissed off just about everybody. Director Claire Denis' previous film Beau Travail was heralded as a glorious gift to the canon of cinema. People could not stop singing their love for the film. Even today, it is annoying. I am among the few that was completely unimpressed by the film. Aesthetically it was lovely, but... I just wanted more. It is the kind of film that "proper" capital C Cinefiles wet their pants over. I suppose I'm not one of them. These were the people that, when Trouble Every Day was released (out of competition at Cannes, no less) were incensed at the alleged mediocrity of the film. I have never actually read a good review of the film - a review that hasn't called it gratuitous, plodding and such a waste of a good filmmaker. Whatever. If my life has a mission it is that these so called lesser get acknowledged as nothing more than equal to their "distinguished" others. As an aside, there was a fantastic article of some similar topics published in yesterday's New York Times.

I must say that I think Trouble Every Day is a very good film in many ways. It is prefaced with a short sequence of a couple kissing in a car. This is truly all the intro we need to contextualize the film. What we will watch for the next 90 minutes is summed up in this kiss. All of the violence and yearning are contained in this kiss. When Beatrice Dalle starts devouring her victim, it is exposing the line that is everpresent in human carnality. These are, of course, extreme examples, but for god's sake, you are watching a horror film. A horror film is nothing but essentialized examples of the fears that rack our public consciousness. Some critical studies departments teach history through the horror film because the subject/monster of the film is always that thing that is forefront in public consciousness. Trouble Every Day speaks to many fears, AIDS is very present as well as these powerplays and social structures. Vincent Gallo cannot consume his wealthy and pure American wife, but the eroticized foreign maid is below him totemically, and is, therefore, easy prey. It is a social critique as well as genre. When I first watched the film, without understanding the racial politics of french culture, I did not understand the implications that the killing of the maid suggests. This is a common thread throughout most of Denis' films and allows a greater sense of purpose to Trouble Every Day.

Ultimately, Trouble Every Day is a visually stunning (another job well done by cinematographer Agnes Goddard) nod to horror/exploitation cinema that furthers a discussion of just what we are looking at when we watch a horror film. The characters are SO meta that we cannot take them for actual people and this is perhaps the best success of the film. The film presents us with a theory of not only horror cinema, but of the human condition. It's not a pretty one, but it hardly ever is...


Blogger J said...

Many of Denis' previous films have also dealt with race--sometimes directly ('Chocolat,' and no not that fucking Miramax turd with Juliette Binoche) and other times less so ('J'ai pas sommeil' and to some extent 'Beau travail'). So, an understanding of the fluid themes of her body of work is also essential to an assessment of 'Trouble Every Day.' She also assistant directed on 'Down by Law,' and like Denis, Jarmusch indirectly tackles the issues of race in his films. Knowing this and the rampant racism/xenophobia that exists in not only French culture, but of the entire occidental world, 'Trouble Every Day' begins to make a lot more sense.

The horror genre has always been a medium for expressing cultural concerns in a way that can slip pas the intellect of most of its viewers, while still being able to plant a seed within. 'The Bride of Frankenstein' was a perfect allegory for homosexual James Whale, with The Monster as the societal outcast (gay or whatever). David Cronenberg's 'The Fly' took a lousy, campy Vincent Price flick and turned it into something culturally viable -- a parable of power, AIDS, and self-destruction (though I might argue the growing popularity of cocaine to be another possible allergory). Even trash like 'I Spit on Your Grave' works on the same level, considering the women's rights movements of the time period. Sad that Hollywood cannot find any new ideas in the genre and resort to remaking "horror classics" or Asian imports. Hollywood even plagues the foreign horror; the M Night Shamawhatthefuck school of filmmaking truly destroyed what could have been a real treat like 'Haute tension.'

'Trouble Every Day,' was--to me--exactly what I expected from a Claire Denis cannibal/vampire tale starring Beatrice Dalle and Vincent Gallo. It's just as clinical as 'Beau travail,' but offensively so. Seeing Ms Dalle bite off her young prey's flesh is truly nauseating. But the main problem with people and 'Trouble Every Day' is not that it's offensive as much as it's not offensive enough. Whether you liked it or not, you REMEMBER 'Twentynine Palms' and 'Fat Girl'... because they were assults. 'Trouble Every Day' never reaches the heights of the did-they-really-just-do-that French extremism movement, and that is perhaps why it works so well for me. Why isn't it as gross as the others? Where's the final knee-in-the-balls? 'Trouble Every Day' doesn't live up to the standards set by Madame Breillat or Bruno Dumont. She infuses her typical style and themes into a film noticably saucier than her others but noticably less "killer" than her contemporaries.

10:20 PM  
Blogger J said...

A strange interview with Denis on the subject of 'Trouble Every Day'... I can't help but feel the interviewer was buttering her up, and one of the photo captions labels Beatrice Dalle when it's actually the maid. B, I think you'll like that she references one of your favorites: "Cat People."

10:24 PM  
Blogger Matt Riviera said...

I first saw the film at an advance screening in Lyon, France. During the Q&A with Claire Denis afterwards, one woman stood up and asked: "how can you make us sit throught such horror and bloodshed, where is the entertainment in that?". Denis replied: "I didn't 'make' you sit through anything. I don't make films to be entertaining, you simply shouldn't have come."

I am so relieved that there are women such as Claire Denis making films today. I don't find Trouble Every Day to be offensive at all. Of course there is social critique and there is horror, but mostly for me, it is a great love story (underlined by an impossibly romantic and beautiful Tindersticks score). And a great love story is always entertaining.

I like your idea of looking at her characters as meta-characters, perhaps the key to understanding (and enjoying) Denis's complex new film, The Intruder.

You're right that it's almost impossible to find a positive english-language review of the film, whereas the French press was very generous. I don't think it's about whether or not the cultural subtleties of the social commentary were 'understood'. Perhaps it's more to do with the need some people have to have things explained to them, not through visceral poetry but through a coherent plot with clear messages. Viewing Trouble Every Day is a sensual experience first and foremost. This is a film you have to 'give in' to, something I find North American critics are often very reluctant to do.

1:10 AM  
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8:51 AM  

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