Hannibal gets the French arthouse treatment in Claire Denis’ “Trouble Every Day,” a resolutely silly movie, largely shot in English, that plays like “An Existential American Cannibal in Paris” with a morose Vincent Gallo spending a sanguinary honeymoon in the City of Light. Over-long, under-written and needlessly obscure instead of genuinely atmospheric, pic is almost unrecognizable as a work from the director of the rigorous “Beau travail” and engaging youth pic “Nenette and Boni.” Hardcore auteurists may defend “Trouble” as an uncompromising exploration of unfulfilled longing but the movie looks to have much more trouble attracting paying customers once initial curiosity over its sex-and-gore quotient has quickly worn off.
Though the film’s pace allows plenty of time for reflection, it’s hard to think of what Denis and her regular scripter, Jean-Pol Fargeau were thinking of when they embarked on the movie. Denis has never held back in pushing the envelope throughout her career — from the ice-cold steeliness of “I Can’t Sleep” to the flirtatiously homoerotic “Good Work” — but with “Trouble” there’s nothing beneath the emperor’s clothes.
Pic seems to play for shock value and intellectual pretension alone as it leads the viewer on a long shaggy-dog story that isn’t worth the journey. And for a movie that seems nominally to be about unquenchable hunger and desire, there’s a notable lack of either emotion or eroticism.
Gallo, in lugubrious vein, plays Shane Brown, first seen in an airplane above Denver with his young bride, June (Tricia Vessey), as they travel to honeymoon in Paris. An atmosphere of languor and foreboding has already been drawn during the pic’s main title and opening scenes in France, during which a vulpine young woman, Core (Beatrice Dalle), picks up a trucker by a highway and apparently murders him during sexual congress; that night, she’s retrieved by a black guy (Alex Descas) and locked away in his spacious suburban manse.
With the minimum of dialogue and maximum of confusion, Denis introduces a spread of characters who go about their business with no clear connection to anything. While Shane has an anxiety attack in the plane’s toilet, back in Paris the black guy, who we now learn is a doctor named Semeneau, sets off for work, leaving the woman he rescued locked in a bedroom. Outside, two youths case the house in his absence.
Pic’s sense of direction doesn’t get any clearer as Shane and June check into their hotel and the camera then follows their chambermaid as she ends her shift, washes her feet and heads for home. Up in the room, Shane starts phoning a lab technician who’s busy dissecting a brain and, when he’s told to call back, goes to the bathroom and gazes at his cute, nervous young wife in the tub. As the camera roams over her naked body, one portion of her anatomy literally looks good enough to eat.
After 40 minutes of so-called exposition, with only the mournful, drone-like music and some low-register rumblings on the effects track to engender a sense of foreboding, the script finally starts doling out information in awkward lumps of dialogue, with the whole story only becoming clear at the very end. Shane, it appears, is trying to track down Semeneau, who’s gone AWOL with a research paper Shane needs. Your last name doesn’t need to be either Lecter or Van Helsing to guess that Shane’s or Core’s hungry looks are likely to be satisfied by the chambermaid and young housebreakers.
Performances throughout are as minimal as the dialogue, and the payoff (in a final line by Shane) almost comically offhanded. Though there’s a reasonable amount of nudity and gore — but no more than the average French movie or horror pic — the aimed-for shock effect is negated by Denis’ somnolent direction and the increasingly ridiculous goings-on. Latter are climaxed by a Farrelly brothers-like sequence of Shane pleasuring himself in the bathroom in which the viewer is shown only the copious results rather than the details.
Technically, pic is uninteresting, with Agnes Godard’s lensing having no overall look or texture.