I was hugely moved by Claire Denis‘s first movie, Chocolat, and I still think it’s one of the most insightful artistic analyses of colonialism I’ve ever come across. Later, I found J’ai pas sommeil and Beau travail, which also dealt with cultural collisions, similarly impressive. Beau travail, a reiteration of Billy Budd set on a French Foreign Legion post in west Africa, is particularly brilliant.
It seems, though, that Denis has lost interest in history and developed an interest in, well, fucking. Not sex but fucking, and to put an even finer point on it, fucked-up fucking. Vendredi soir, which I saw when it came out in 2002, is about a random hookup, and while I enjoyed the filmmaking (Denis, unlike 99% of directors, really understands the power of the camera as a narrator; the movie is nearly without dialogue, and her shots are so elegantly framed as to bring to mind Mizoguchi), I thought the movie was emotionally claustrophobic, and I missed the historical consciousness I’d come to expect from this director.
Trouble Every Day, made in between Beau travail and Vendredi soir, was billed as a horror movie on Netflix. I don’t really watch horror movies, and not because I’m a prude or a snob. They scare and upset me, is all. But this was Claire Denis! So I rented it. The characters in it are trying to figure out the relationship between eros (the sex drive), thanatos (the death drive), and snakatos (the munchies drive). Which is to say, they fuck, kill, and eat each other. Smarty pants cinemaphiles will argue that this film is firmly in keeping with Denis’s great themes of crossing borders and reconciling the self and the other. I thought it was pretentious, dull, and really, really, yucky.