With her ravishing 2000 film Beau Travail, an elliptical study of French legionnaires in the East African enclave of Djibouti, director Claire Denis stretched the confines of a conventional narrative and told her story purely through beautiful, shifting landscapes—both of the desert and the body. Where that film may have aroused appetites for glistening flesh, her dark and mesmerizing follow-up, Trouble Every Day, goes the next logical step, literally equating sex with cannibalism and consummation with consumption. Bringing her unique sensibility to the horror genre, Denis keeps the dialogue to a minimum and crafts a low-key, seductively opaque love story out of gore and gristle, with intimate scenes that are simultaneously tender and horrific. By pulling off such a delicate balancing act, she placed her film in a troubling space between the arthouse and Fangoria, which explains why it has so sharply polarized audiences and critics since its debut at the Cannes Film Festival. But that kind of reaction should be expected for a film this startlingly original, a two-pronged assault on good taste and bad taste that defies expectation and casts an eerily melancholic spell. Timed to a brooding, smoky score (and title song) by Tindersticks, Trouble Every Day runs its story on parallel tracks, cutting between two couples affected by the same, unusual strain of vampirism. As a Jekyll who can feel himself turning inexorably into Hyde, Vincent Gallo clings to his beloved new bride (Tricia Vessey) on their honeymoon in Paris, but is increasingly powerless to quell his taste for blood. A former research scientist at a pharmaceutical company, where he tested an experimental drug that led to his condition, Gallo searches fruitlessly for Alex Descas, a colleague whose research paper on the subject was widely discredited by the medical community. For his part, Descas looks after wife Béatrice Dalle, who has fully succumbed to "the sickness." Descas keeps her boarded up in their bedroom, behind locked windows and metal shutters, and when she escapes to savage a truck driver or a horny adolescent, he cleans up the mess left behind. Even with all the artful grotesquerie in Trouble Every Day, the prevailing mood is exquisitely sad, centered on two loving relationships infected by a force beyond their control. Gallo and Descas' instinct to protect their wives—the former from the truth, the latter from herself—remains touching under the worst of circumstances, and brings a glint of redemption to an otherwise somber, grisly tale. By applying the off-center tone, texture, and rhythm of Beau Travail to a lurid genre, Denis creates a horror film unlike any other, buttressing the shocks with an eye and an ear for beauty.
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