Sometimes, the beginning of a film does give you some sort of indication of what will follow. Other times, an extremely gory and disturbing film can start with credits that are entirely typed in Comic Sans Ms. Maybe whoever said you can’t judge a book by its cover was right all along !
All joking set aside, Trouble Every Day, Claire Denis’ 2001 adventure into the small world of erotic horror, is filled with dread as soon as we press play. What we hear is never quite silence, a soft, buzzy noise accompanying every scene. Every small sound is amplified to the point of exhaustion: from shoes hitting the pavement of Paris’ streets to newlywed lips finding each other like they’re discovering they exist for the first time. Not much happens in the 101 minutes runtime, but even the nothingness it proposes us feels overwhelming.
People are rarely complete entities in Denis’ vampirical world. They’re faces, hands, skin, genitals, but bodies as a whole are rarely found. Finding personalities behind these fractured figures is even harder. Dialogue is seldom used, and only because of sheer necessity. Words aren’t spoken confidently, French and English characters alternating between their native and foreign tongues, creating more and more linguistic barriers that are hard to be brought down. The world that Denis presents to us is cold and uninterested in communication. It hardly feels like our own world, but it doesn’t feel like the characters feel any less alienated than we are.
Our two main protagonists become apparent soon enough. The first we meet is Coré (Béatrice Dalle), a beautiful, unusually silent young woman as she seduces a young man passing by. A few hours later, the same man is nothing more than blood and guts. Coré, a few meters away from him, is shivering, her entire face stained with blood. There’s no doubt whatsoever as to what happened. When her husband, Dr. Léo Sémeneau (Alex Descas), finds her, he’s so unphased that we understand immediately that the grotesque scene is a regular occurence. He takes Coré home. Through the entire runtime, she will never speak. She hums, moans, groans, pants, snores, even getting occasionally close to giggling at times — but she is well past the point of words.
As it soon turns out, Coré is truly incapable of living in the outside world. Léo baricades her inside the house during the day, to keep her safe. Although she bites her victims, it’s never said she’s a vampire or any type of creature we might be familiar with. We don’t know either if she gets any sort of life force from it. She does take pleasure from her sexual killings while it’s happening, as shown in a particularly horrifying scene where she decides to seduce a young man who has broken into her house — but as soon as it’s over, her troubled state of mind comes back. The film proposes that this is truly a sickness, something that she can’t escape from. We don’t know who Coré used to be, and she has no interest in knowing what she could become if she were cured. Trapping her inside all day long undoubtedly saved many men — but it also saved her from herself.
On the other side of the equation is Shane (Vincent Gallo), an American doctor who used to know both Léo and Coré and is secretly suffering from the same disease that Coré is (although he is still most likely in the earlier stages of said disease). In appearance, he’s normal — or at least as normal as the ones that people Trouble Every Day’s warped reality are allowed to be. Inside his head is an entirely different story. It doesn’t take long before we realize something is wrong with him. He stares too much, or sometimes not at all. He avoids other people as much as he can. Maybe the characters of the film do feel there’s something different about him, but none of them care enough to truly act on their suspicions. Not until it’s too late.
We could say that Trouble Every Day never feels like it will have a happy ending — but that would be to insinuate that it feels like it should have an ending at all. We are not welcome in this world, we aren’t invited to any sort of narrative. Sure, on some level, there is a bit of a story — but it doesn’t mean as much as the imagery, sounds, and overall mood and tone do. In the end, we are back where we started. The screen is filled with hopelessness, characters deprived of their humanity without anyone knowing what to do about it.
The nature of Coré and Shane’s sickness is never explicitly stated, nor is the film interested in giving us a clear answer. It is obviously one of a sexual nature — but also one of an unescapably violent one. Where does pleasure end and violence start ? It can sometimes be hard to identify. In the film’s goriest scene, the exact moment where Coré’s victim’s screams turn from pleasure to pain is hard to pinpoint. She’s too far deep to hear it. After she’s done, she gently kisses his body, licks his face, making noises close to an animal’s. We don’t know what she used to be, but she isn’t much of anything anymore. Once the rush has passed, she realizes this as well. When Shane finally sees her, he sees what he will soon become if a cure isn’t found. He’s terrified, but he can’t do anything about it. And so the cycle starts again, an endless cycle of sex, solitude, violence and death that no one can stop.
The fact that Denis chooses to present to us both a female and male version of the disease shows that it does not discriminate between genders. It is hard to know exactly what that disease represents. The only things we do know are that it is inescapable, and that people who don’t suffer from it aren’t invested enough to find a solution. When we leave this world, we are just as alienated as the infected are. The slow pace of the narrative only picks up when acts of violence are committed, making them the center of these two characters’ lives. They used to be more. They had significant others, jobs, they most likely liked things. Now, all they can see are bodies, and soon, that’s all they will be too. Sex is the only thing that makes them feel alive anymore, so much that it inevitably derails into gruesome acts of violence. Trouble Every Day is an unwelcoming world, one that is hard to decipher. By the time the credits roll, we feel like we’ve seen both too much and not enough. We may never understand, and it is no consolation that none of the characters are any more advanced than we are.