For Claire Denis, sex is a hazardous decision. Gone is the thought that one might casually, flippantly hold the attitude of Marline Dietrich, “It’s just sex.” Sex is a life-and-death compulsion, it drives and destroys in equal measures, it is a deadly lust. Dare anyone call these films “erotic”? They do not titillate, but rather warn. And we wince.
The title “Bastards” really says it all. Men manipulating, forcing themselves upon women, using them and casting them aside as an old sex doll. Men, all men it seems, are so goal-oriented that nothing will stand in their way, but their goal is never relationship, but relationship is used as a means to their ends. A female human being is simply a hurdle, a means, but never the end in and of themselves. One man might be considered a good father, another might be a good uncle, but they are never, nor do they have the capacity to be, a caring husband, a stirring lover. The good male companion is a fantasy, never to be fully fleshed out because they never give more than a cursory glance at their partner.
In “Trouble Every Day” lust is a drive to consume. Perhaps we have experienced this—our love of a child might cause us to pinch them, to claim, “I could just eat you up!” But in this film the compulsion for sex is always accompanied with the drive to devour flesh. This leads to a couple of the most disturbing sex scenes possibly every put upon screen—revolting, disgusting. And yet, and yet… Perhaps Denis is speaking about addictive personalities, perhaps she is opening up the fetish can of worms in which lust occasionally leads down darker paths. Or perhaps she is revealing something about all of us, that in the end our lust is about our appetite, and no matter how we try in the end our compulsion will drive us and destroy others. Maybe we just can’t help it.
My friends who have seen more of Clair Denis will tell me that these films are different for her. Perhaps so, but this is a side of her that must be recognized. The driven darkness of us all are explored and exposed and there is a time that we must look right in the mirror of cinema and confess, “That is me.”