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Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2002

Love, or something like it, will tear us apart

Trouble Every Day

Rating: * *
Director: Claire Denis
Running time: 100 minutes
Language: French/English
Opens Nov. 2

The word "atrocity" leaps to mind after the ending credits to "Trouble Every Day" (released in Japan as "Gargoyle") -- a film that left me with symptoms similar to the flu: dry throat, teary eyes and a gnawing suspicion that the world is truly an evil place. Despite some rave reviews at the Cannes Film Festival (as well as plugs from designers agnes b. and Jean Paul Gaultier), this was just plain difficult to sit through without having a series of mini anxiety attacks. And I wasn't the only one: The person next to me in the screening room had to be helped to her feet. A guy in the first row had his hand pressed to his mouth.

News photo
Vincent Gallo and Florence Loiret-Caille in "Trouble Every Day"

And the distributors are calling this a love story?

Beside "Trouble Every Day," the likes of "Hannibal" pale and wilt like a sickly featherweight in the same ring with Lennox Lewis. "Trouble Every Day" should just be billed as a hard-core horror film, and tranquilizers should be handed out at the doors.

Claire Denis directed and co-wrote the story to this elaborate nightmare that literally oozes blood (the hot and sticky kind). "Trouble Every Day" is about two unfortunate people who cannot help but kill their partners during sexual activity. And it's not the usual rough play of s&m sex; it's literally tearing the other person's limbs and organs out, with bare hands and mouth. And who better to play such roles than Vincent Gallo, the man who can do a werewolf with no makeup, and Beatrice "Betty Blue" Dalle, for whom the phrase "she eats men before breakfast" seems to have been invented.

Denis draws on their darknesses with expert skill; the problem is, they both come off as some fantastic monsters in a freak show, on display to be gawked at but deserving of our sympathy. Under the circumstances, the latter just doesn't work.

Gallo plays Dr. Shane Brown, a pharmaceutical company exec from the United States on honeymoon in Paris with his lovely bride June (Tricia Vessey). To the rest of the world, they're just starry-eyed newlyweds, but Shane is suffering from a secret: He cannot consummate his marriage with June just yet, since doing so will lead to a terrible death for her. Whenever he feels his desire for her becoming too strong, he locks himself in the bathroom to indulge in desperate masturbation. June is confused and upset.

Shane tries to locate former research colleague Leo (Alex Descas), who is familiar with his illness and can perhaps treat him. Leo, however, has his own problems: His wife Core (Dalle) has the same symptoms. Everyday before leaving for work, Leo locks her in the bedroom, but she always manages to escape, hook up with some truck driver on the freeway, and then proceed to tear his organs out.

The premise here is that these two cannot make love to their nearest and dearest because, as Shane whispers tenderly to June, "I could never hurt you." While Denis may say that this is a lofty and beautiful premise, lending tragic poetry to the relationships of the two couples, it actually brings on major feelings of resentment. In order to preserve their marriages, Shane and Core are taking out their sick, violent impulses on others, and it's probably no coincidence that these others consist of truck drivers, hotel maids and high-school dropouts.

Especially harrowing is the segment where Shane seduces the maid in his hotel, the inconspicuous and skinny-shouldered Christelle (Florence Loiret-Caille). Compared to the bright, sophisticated June, Christelle gives off an aura of expendability, and this is what apparently gives Shane the right to do things to her that have rarely been done onscreen except in maybe certain quadruple X-rated theaters in pre-makeover Times Square.

The politics of this premise is disgusting and so last century -- recalling aspects of colonialism or any kind of war crime conducted with the logic that it's OK to do it to them, because they're not one of us.

There's no denying the power of "Trouble Every Day" to get right into the skin and stay there. The visuals photographed by Agnes Godard play a huge part -- certain frames linger in the mind like fragments of a dream, so intricate and real that you begin to confuse them with actual memory. There's a scene where June and Shane visit Notre Dame. On the cathedral balcony, June's lime green scarf becomes undone and sails away in the wind, a bright yet fragile spot of color floating against the forbidding, somber stone walls of Paris.

There's also a scene when Shane's gaze is obsessively fixated on June's naked body as she lies in the bath, parts of her obscured in the soapy water but the most symbolic and vulnerable parts of her clearly visible. Between Godard and Denis, they show us what it is about sex that plunges the human mind into lunacy and the awful, inherent violence of desire.

Please, just don't drag the word "love" into it.

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