Trouble, not half!

Another female director with a strong pedigree of films behind her is Claire Denis who is probably best known for her simmering and taboo busting pairing of two of France’s major cult stars in her Trouble Every Day (2001). There is something rather wrong with Coré (Béatrice Dalle) as she seems to be kept under lock and key by her Dr husband. Unfortunately she appears to be able to get out now and again for a bite and we are not talking Kentucky Fried here either. Equally odd is Shane (Vincent Gallo) who is on honeymoon with his new wife but is also popping pills and looking for a certain Dr (guess who) that he has been involved in past cutting edge studies of the human libido with.

Shane seems to have problems functioning with his frustrated wife, preferring to leave her locked outside the bathroom door as he bangs one out over the mirror. There is also a smoking sexual tension between him and the sexy chambermaid at the hotel. Coré meanwhile has no trouble attracting a couple of curiosity seekers into her prison. They may well have expected a Dalleiance (sorry) and end up getting bitten off far more than they chew (well the one who doesn’t sensibly leg it does). Finally Shane and Core meet as in the dénouement of the movie do Shane and the Chambermaid. I won’t spoil this for you but will say this is a movie that really does set about eroticising the flesh and despite its somewhat slow moving pace is a movie well worth checking out. The themes of cannibalism and worshipping of the flesh here are dealt with in a sensitive and thought provoking fashion and there is absolutely no idea that this is a film using violence for its own sake or one of an exploitative fashion. This is intelligent and thought provoking film making and would be in a field of its own as far as originality is concerned if it were not perhaps for the next movie featured here.

Trouble Every Day is available uncut via Tartan movies.


Give Me Some Skin Sister! 

With similar themes although much more centred on anti-body image we have the
remarkable Dans Ma Peau (In My Skin) 2002 a film written, directed and starring in the main role of Esther, Marina De Van. Trying to get into marketing work and at a party full of obnoxious types, Esther explores the large garden and stumbles badly gashing her leg on some sort of sharp object (she was not drunk but we could be cruel and no doubt blame the shoes). Seemingly unaffected she returns to the party and only notices the blood and extent of the damage later. Finally a surprised Dr wonders if she is somewhat immune to pain as he stitches her up. Back at work Esther is struggling getting a report right and finds a cathartic measure by grabbing a sharp object in the file room, opening the wound and making some fresh ones. Seemingly, again she is oblivious to pain but as the viewer you will no doubt be cringing to these scenes. She tells a friend and colleague Sandrine this with a look of orgasmic bliss on her face and is invited to stay the night whilst her companion sees the wound and swiftly removes sharp objects from the bathroom.

Later at a party by a pool Esther gets a job she has been after and in effect betters her friend Sandrine who got her into the company in the first place, sullying their relationship. Supposedly tee-total a very important business meeting sees peer pressure and alcohol going straight to Esther’s head. As her arm is detached from her body in a numbingly hallucinatory fashion she can only cope with the situation by subtly stabbing it with her steak knife. Things are by now beginning to spiral out of control. Esther cuts her arms and chews on the wounds, revelling in vampish bloodlust. The flesh is taking over and needs appeasing; the mind is losing this battle as she succumbs. She manages to fool her worried boyfriend who has been watching her like a hawk by faking a car accident and semi-explaining her cuts away.

Portraying a disorientation in a supermarket like a panic attack and amplifying things very cleverly with split screen techniques we are aware in a very voyeuristic fashion exactly where things are leading; not that this makes watching the final segment any less shocking. Throughout the film it is almost as though the flesh has been made a mockery of. Scenes of meat are almost exaggerated, well the French do like it raw but often the camera lingers on it being eaten in an unappetising (and to a vegetarian) sickening fashion and this is exactly how Esther treats her own meat and her body albeit skilfully dealt with in an erotic and fetishised fashion.

The subject matter is dealt with a huge amount of sensibility, dare I say it, that it even displays a caring woman’s touch. The bodily exploration and its discovery is akin to the less drastic but still severely destructive act of anorexia. One wonders what the film would be like if stripped down and carelessly remade for the American audience as is the trend for foreign ‘art-house’ movies these days. De Van can obviously be compared to David Cronenberg with this film as well as perhaps the obsessive nature of Polanski and the themes in a restrained fashion of Shinya Tsukamoto. Some films do indeed cut deep and Dans Ma Peau certainly gets under the skin.

The film unlike the main star is available uncut via Tartan.

Oh Noe It’s Gasper Irreversible (2002) 

Gritty and breaking taboos, well it looked like this was the way that the new wave of French cinema was heading in the late 90s’. One person who firmly grasped this ideology was Gasper Noe, an Argentinean by birth and one sick fucked up puppy with it. His 1998 movie Seul Contre Tous (I Stand Alone) was shocking enough with its nihilistic vision of a butcher going postal but it was Irreversible in 2002 which really got the censors and most people who saw it talking about one of cinema’s most screwed up films in years.

For a start Irreversible is a movie in reverse. You start with the end credits going the wrong way up the screen. As far as the DVD is concerned everything about it is back to front and you even open the case the wrong way round. Obviously it would be impossible to film the movie like this completely in reverse order but you do start with the final scene and work your way backwards.

Starting at a charming club called Rectum, we see a badly injured person being stretchered out along with a man in cuffs. You are quickly and completely disorientated as the lighting is dark and the camera staggers drunkenly all over the screen, traversing the walls of buildings like Spiderman on crack. This gets worse when we follow two men into the club on the previous (or next scene) one of these is Marcus played by the excellent Vincent Cassel and we follow him and his companion through the dingy labyrinthine venue voyeuristically catching snatches of gay sexual acts. The camera never lingers but just touches on these scenes rapidly leaving you wondering and worrying about just what you have seen. The men are searching for ‘La Tenia’(The Tapeworm) and as yet we have no idea but it does not seem like they want to give him a bunch of flowers. Although the camera will have done your head in and have you on the verge of motion sickness, nothing will prepare you for the violence in store when they find La Tenia and you will never be able to look at a fire extinguisher in the same way again.

Obviously after this (do not forget the end of the film) we have to travel back to find out what led to these grizzly shocking scenes. We follow Marcus and his as yet unnamed friend who in a mad violence fuelled (from the out of control Marcus) across the sort of streets we unwittingly traipsed down in Baise Moi. This is a seedy fucked up place, Chinese taxi drivers are racially abused by Marcus, whores and she males are slapped about and threatened and we begin to find out that someone called Alex (Monica Bellucci) is in hospital and has been raped.

The (anal) rape scene when we get to it is one of the most harrowing in the history of cinema. The sadism and language and the tone of this are horrible and even without seeing anything too graphic the fact that this is drawn out for a full 9 minutes makes it even nastier and I can imagine trapped watching this in a cinema with no pause at your disposal this must be a horrible and uncomfortable scene to sit through. Quite honestly there is little chance you will ever be able to forget this having watched it and it shows rape for what it is, brutal and degrading without the slightest hint of eroticism.

Although in the middle this is perhaps the beginning and the end of the movie, everything revolves around the rape. Several longer scenes build up the characterisation of the three main players, Alex, Marcus and we now discover the third is Pierre (Albert Dupontel). I will not go into them now as I do not really want to spoil the beginning of the movie.

The non-linear structure is surprisingly easy to get to grips with (thankfully more so than Christopher Nolan’s Momento), if not on first view it is on subsequent ones although much like films such as Passolini’s Salo 120 Days Of Sodom, Irreversible is not a film particularly easy to revisit. It has to be said that the beautiful Belluci and real life husband Cassel are fantastic, she steels the second (or is that the first half) of the movie and plays the rape scene in a hugely convincing fashion.Casselis the atypical nutter, a role he played with gusto in La Haine, Dobermann and pretty much everything else he has touched in French cinema.

One would really expect that this reverse rape revenge movie was likely to run into problems with the censor. After a couple of months deliberation the BBFC decided to release the movie uncut theatrically and then for home viewing. With the likes of, I Spit On Your Grave still being banned in their uncut form, this was perhaps a surprising decision. Was it due to the fact that this was a subtitled movie, with plot conventions perhaps not for the masses and ‘arthouse’ sensibilities?  Perhaps central to this decision was the advice of a clinical forensic psychiatrist who stated referencing the rape scene that it “is a harrowing and vivid portrayal of the brutality of rape,” it “contains no explicit sexual images and is not designed to titillate.”

With this in mind Irreversible is admirably available uncut on Tartan Video.

Coming in Part Four The rise of the slasher Haute Tension, Sheitan and Frontière(s)