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Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis) 2002


The key word in the title to Claire Denis’ new film Trouble Every Day is “Every”. This intelligent modern day vampire flick is obsessed with routine, much as Denis’ exquisite Beau Travail was. The real curse of the bloodsucker, says the film, isn’t so much the craving for blood as it is the inescapable knowledge that the next evening’s sexual encounter will only bring more of the same, for eternity. There’s no suggestion that the carnal parasites in the film are vampires in the typical sense. The fragmented narrative hints that the cause of their unnatural affliction is a neuro-sexual drug experiment gone wrong. It hardly seems to matter, though, because even if the sun doesn’t kill them, they have assumed the vampire’s inversion of day and night. The female vampire in the film tends to prowl by night in order to schedule her stalking around her husband’s workday. The male one is jet lagged. The circular schedule of events in their life (Denis underlines this with repeated images of spinning centrifuges) is inescapable, though through barricaded windows and attempted chemical cures they try to circumvent it.


The desire to devour their mates seems to be triggered during intercourse, so it’s unfortunate that as the film begins, Shane (Vincent Gallo), the lead character is beginning his honeymoon in Paris. His wife’s expectation of wedding night coupling is nothing less than an invitation for disaster. Even, 321, their honeymoon suite’s room number seems to be a countdown to doom. Innocent gestures, such as the moment in which the newlywed kisses his wife’s wrist, take on ominous baggage once we understand his sickness. Shane’s struggles against his compulsions and his attempts to find the man who might have a cure provide the engine that drives most of the nearly wordless film’s minimalist narrative. A lot of the dialogue in the film is perfunctory, and most of the mood has to be assumed. As the film moves on, the audience sympathizes more and more with Shane, and he feels less like a monster. His shockingly potent moments of release are the narrative’s literal and figurative climaxes. Still, one must wonder why Shane would marry given his predicament.


That the monsters in Trouble Every Day don’t sprout fangs or claws makes them much scarier. Denis occasionally plays homage to the vampire myth with several visual puns, such as the moment where Coré, the female vampire, straddles a hilltop and unfurls her jacket above her head, evoking a bat’s wings, but the majority of the film’s running time is spent blurring the line between monster and mortal. Certainly, there are less literal forms of vampirism on display, such as the revelation that Shane has built his reputation acquiring smaller companies for the conglomerate he works for, or even in the small thefts of toiletries that we see a maid indulge in. The vampire, sexualized tempter that it is, is an ineffectual creature if its prey does not have unfulfilled desires. Denis’ suggestion is that we all are vulnerable because we all are a little bit beast-like. It’s this assertion that makes the film have more potency than the average creature feature.


The line between sexual pain and pleasure is razor thin here, and the film’s visceral combination will be unpleasant to a good portion of its audience. Personally, the narrative sparseness, the hazy visuals, with their Soderbergh-esque melding of blue and orange lights, and the moody music provided by Tindersticks struck me as the polar opposite of unpleasant. Few great vampire films are really about vampirism when all is said and done. Ultimately, the message of Trouble Every Day seems to be that all sexual desire disrupts life’s stasis. Libido is, in some ways, a dysfunction that threatens our ability to be typically productive and moral citizens. The glimpses of the Palm Pilot and laptop computer, totems of an idealized and optimized productivity, that Shane lugged along on his honeymoon become symbols of his yearning to return to a boring, desexualized life. In Denis’ blistering vision, however, our own carnality seems an inescapable and constant prison. Trouble Every Day, indeed.




Jeremy Heilman