Shane and June Brown (Vincent Gallo and Tricia Vessey) are a young America couple who have travelled to Paris for their honeymoon. Shane has an ulterior motive however. He has been infected with a disease that brings on uncontrollable cannibalistic urges when sexually excited, making it a little tricky for the couple to consummate their marriage (at one point Shane is forced to dash to their hotel bathroom half through sex to, er, finish himself off before he attacks June, much to her frustration and confusion).
Shane is seeking Léo (Alex Descas), an old acquaintance and the discredited doctor responsible for infecting him. Léo has plenty of problems of his own — his wife Coré (Béatrice Dalle) is also afflicted, but is in a far more developed stage than Shane. Léo keeps her locked in their house but she keeps escaping, forcing him to track her down and dispose of the half-eaten body that will inevitably be found by her side.
The plot is simple, but Denis takes a long time to make the main points clear. The connection between Shane and Léo doesn’t become apparent for a good half an hour, the fact that Shane is suffering from the same disease as Coré even longer. The film constantly teeters on the brink of being dull, and while it never fully succumbs, it doesn’t exactly make for exciting viewing. Denis is more interested by small details than the overall story— Dalle’s lips, a spinning test tube container, slices of frozen brain, while dialogue is kept to a minimum (Dalle has only three lines).
Denis’s great strength lies in creating a dark, oppressive mood, a sense of inevitable, teetering madness. Nottingham band Tindersticks provide a beautiful, edgy score, and the performances of Dalle and Gallo perfectly capture the savage tone of the film. Gallo is a model of enforced control as he attempts to stop his anthropophageous desires from overcoming him, while Dalle’s crazed turn is frighteningly animalistic.
It’s the violence for which Trouble Every Day has gained its notoriety, and while this really comes down to just two scenes, it is shocking. The first — Dalle’s seduction and subsequent attack on a teenager who breaks into her prison-house — is at first erotic then squirm-makingly nasty, while the second, featuring Gallo and a hotel maid, is not as bloody but almost unwatchably horrific. Although it is in fact only minutes from the end, expect walkouts at this point.
Ultimately however, Denis doesn’t seem to know what she wants her film to be about. The disease itself is never explored in the way David Cronenberg might have, and it’s never made clear if the cannibalistic desires are a result of an initial nymphomania, or if the urge to eat flesh exists from the word go. Denis clearly isn’t very interested in making a horror film, but the horror crowd will be her core audience, even though I doubt many will put up with endless scenes of Gallo wandering the streets of Paris for the sake of a couple of gory cannibal attacks. Trouble Every Day is a brave, hypnotic film, but a curiously unsatisfying one too.