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Trouble Every Day (#110 of 6)

The Tindersticks Live…and a Chat with Organist/Pianist David Boulter

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The Tindersticks Live…and a Chat with Organist/Pianist David Boulter

Michelle Lee

The Tindersticks Live…and a Chat with Organist/Pianist David Boulter

The Tindersticks’ mini-tour for their new box set of soundtrack work for Claire Denis films graced Los Angeles Saturday night for a show at the little-known Luckman Fine Arts Complex. The band will be completing the tour tonight at the 54th San Francisco International Film Festival. I was able to catch the show and keyboardist David Boulter earlier in their tour for an interview.

Film Comment Selects 2011 Domain

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Film Comment Selects 2011: Domain
Film Comment Selects 2011: Domain

Most recently known for her roles in Claire Denis’s Trouble Every Day and The Intruder as, respectively, a feral cannibal and the Queen of the Northern Hemisphere (how’s that for range?), Béatrice Dalle can come off as such a crazy/sexy/cool presence (those eyes! That gap!) that one can easily forget the actress at work beneath the defiantly carnal exterior. Patric Chiha sees both, and uses them to quietly heartrending effect in Domain, a film shaped by the divide between appearance and reality—or, more to the point, perceived order and underlying chaos.

This recognition of emotional disarray beneath chic exteriors occurs slowly within Domain, metered out in Chiha’s pensive images of fog-shrouded clubs and autumnal city parks under cloudy skies. When we first lay eyes on Nadia (Dalle), she’s refilling the champagne glasses of her academic and art-world friends as they lounge around a beach bonfire. Worldly and elegant, Nadia proves a logical fairy godmother for Pierre (Isaïe Sultan), her gay 17-year-old nephew, who sits on the edge of the group but gazes on with hungry eyes. There’s a hint of Olivier Assayas in this scene (something to do with how attuned Chiha is to the emotional and conversational cross-currents of his ever-so-bohemian collective) and it elegantly sets up the casually rebellious world that so fervently draws Pierre to Nadia. Domain subtly toys with our expectations throughout its opening sequences, playing upon memories of other films that cast aging nonconformists as hip mentors to their doe-eyed queer charges. Their frequent walks through a Boudreaux park establish an unforced rapport between Nadia and Pierre, while Pierre’s fashion consultations with Nadia and trips to cafes and gay clubs underline her “cool aunt” status. Though Chiha’s camera remains studiously objective, we can’t help but see Nadia through Pierre’s star-struck eyes, and Dalle sashays through these scenes with stiletto-clicking authority and a touch of world-weary grace.

The Conversations: Trouble Every Day

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The Conversations: Trouble Every Day
The Conversations: Trouble Every Day

Ed Howard: Claire Denis has always been a fascinating and elusive director, making strange, ambiguous movies where meanings are inscribed between the lines, in images and charged silences rather than in the minimal dialogue. Trouble Every Day is quite possibly her most challenging and unsettling film, both utterly typical of her approach—quiet, patiently paced, enigmatic in its characterization and plotting—and yet also a true outlier in her career. For one thing, in terms of genre it’s a horror film, and one of the reasons I was interested in talking about it with you, Jason, is that you’ve previously expressed a general disinterest in horror as a genre. Of course, this is not a genre that one would have intuitively attributed to Denis based on the films she made before (1999’s Billy Budd parable Beau travail) and after (2002’s poetic ode to a one-night stand, Vendredi soir). And her approach to horror is very unusual and idiosyncratic, even though she does eventually deliver enough gore and viscera to sate even the most jaded Saw franchise junkie.

As Andrew O’Hehir described it, “Watching Trouble Every Day, at least if you don’t know what’s coming, is like biting into what looks like a juicy, delicious plum on a hot summer day and coming away with your mouth full of rotten pulp and living worms.” That’s a lurid image, and an appropriate one for a movie whose own most potent, unforgettable images are also gustatory. That Salon review was from the film’s original US release in 2002, and it’s possible that anyone seeing the film for the first time now has more of an idea about what’s coming. So before rewatching the film for this conversation, I had wondered if some of the impact of Denis’ film came from the element of surprise, from being taken unaware by the film’s bloody sexual horror.

However, upon revisiting it I found myself as entranced as ever by its haunting imagery and slow build-up, and as repulsed and affected by its shocking outbursts of violence. I’m curious, though, since you hadn’t seen the film before, both how much you knew about it beforehand and what your initial (visceral) reaction was.

5 for the Day: Double Bills

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5 for the Day: Double Bills
5 for the Day: Double Bills

I grew up in Berkeley, California when the UC Theatre ran a different double bill every day for much of its lifespan. My relationship with the UC Theatre began early when my father took me to see Star Wars at age four, I think. All three original trilogy films were programmed, but as much as I’ve built a memory of seeing the whole series, my dad tells me we just watched the first one before heading home. That was 1986. I kept attending until the UC closed in March, 2001. There were obvious double bills I had to see like Don’t Look Now with Walkabout. And there were other, less-obvious-to-a-ninth-grader pairings I didn’t quite get when I looked at the calendar (but took in nonetheless because of the big names attached to the films) like Breathless with Days of Heaven. Long before DVD and the Criterion Collection, this is how I learned about movies (along with a hearty video store fetish/friendship/relationship).

Deus ex Sanguina: Claire Denis’s Trouble Every Day

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Deus ex Sanguina: Claire Denis’s <em>Trouble Every Day</em>
Deus ex Sanguina: Claire Denis’s <em>Trouble Every Day</em>

Trouble Every Day aches with spiritual dread. Using the iconography of vampire films to illustrate religious fervor, co-writer/director Claire Denis also shows reverence to the medium of film, particularly to the purity of silent movies. There’s almost no dialogue, and what little there is feels like it takes place within the half-heard context of a dream. An early scene on an airplane features Shane Brown (Vincent Gallo) en route to Paris for his honeymoon, his comfort and security literally in midair. He politely excuses himself to the bathroom, stares blankly into the void, and remembers or envisions a murderess, or maybe a dying girl, covered in blood. There’s no sense of shock to the image, but there’s an unsettling fascination with the textures of wet skin and dried blood. The context isn’t so much violence as repressed indulgence. Josh Hartnett may have gone 40 Days and 40 Nights without twenty-something sex or self-gratification, but Gallo’s angst-ridden version of Lent is the perilous and hellish adult version.

Keep Up, or Get Out of the Way: An Interview with Film Critic Walter Chaw

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Keep Up, or Get Out of the Way: An Interview with Film Critic Walter Chaw
Keep Up, or Get Out of the Way: An Interview with Film Critic Walter Chaw

As newsprint-based dailies and weeklies get the squeeze in terms of word count and content, one increasingly has to look to the World Wide Web for no-holds barred criticism. If Film Freak Central film critic Walter Chaw feels uncomfortable with the “Web critic” label, it might be because the medium throws amateurs and professionals onto the same playing field, and studios and publicists fail to distinguish between the wheat and the chaff. But when you find an online critic with writing chops as strong as Chaw’s, you don’t want to keep him to yourself. Where many Internet-based reviewers mimic the acerbic aspects of Pauline Kael, Chaw takes his caustic, occasionally hostile wit so far that one sometimes wonders if the Paulettes might ask him to tone it down a little. Barbed language aside, though, Chaw’s approach owes less to the obvious film critic models than to satirist, science fiction author and cultural pundit Harlan Ellison, who famously said, “Not everyone is entitled to an opinion. They are only entitled to an informed opinion.”

In that spirit, Chaw often references artistic sources that predate cinema’s brief history. Praising Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator as an “ode to needing to make movies—and needing to watch them,” Chaw invoked William Blake’s “idea of gods created in the breast of man [being] transmuted into the cult of personality and the patina of nostalgia for the titans of the silver screen’s golden age. This is a shrine to individualism and a critique of the dreadful cost of individuality.” In his review of Harmony Korine’s second film, Chaw said that Puccini’s ’O Mio Babino Caro’ aria from ’Gianni Schicci,’ a plaintive appeal for the acceptance of a lover, finds itself scattered throughout ’julien donkey-boy’ to further underscore these themes of alienation, sexuality, and a frustrated desire for familial harmony.” Chaw clearly expects his readership to keep up or get out of the way.

He shows an affinity for art house fare, singing the praises of Claire Denis’s astonishing and frequently misunderstood masterpiece Trouble Every Day as “the most insightful film about sex and gender that has perhaps ever been made.” But he’s equally quick to assault the pretentiousness of Sundance favorites like Primer, writing, “I suspect that a lot of people are afraid to admit they don’t understand what’s happening in the film, which talks too much in too stultifying a fashion, obscuring its heart of glass with blizzards of expositive candy.” He is frequently accused, at least by those who write in to Film Freak Central, of being an elitist and a snob.

But those readers might be surprised learn how many mainstream Hollywood films Chaw has championed over the years. He has given four-star reviews to V For Vendetta, King Kong, and Spider-Man 2, which he said “takes chances with its story that lesser films would not, affirming, along with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, that big budgets don’t just by the fact of them quash unique, distinctive, ambitious voices.”

Chaw rages against the Hollywood machine’s depictions of class, gender and race, puncturing political correctness, but assailing films that still think it’s okay to use xenophobic or chauvinistic stereotypes. His jihad against dumbed-down content is so wide-ranging that I’ve occasionally wondered if he needed to take a break. He’s incinerated movies that were paper-thin in the first place: Bringing Down the HouseThe Dukes of HazzardBulletproof MonkxXx: State of the UnionLast Holiday. Maybe he justifies his vitriol on the grounds that he watches this junk so we don’t have to.