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An Actor's Revenge

A tale of parallel afflictions, the movie cuts between the misadventures of two contemporary bloodsuckers. Coré (Béatrice Dalle), the wife of a Parisian doctor, Léo (Alex Descas), is the vampire bat of the highway, luring truckers to their ghastly fate; Shane (Vincent Gallo) is an American medical researcher who flies to Paris with his childlike bride (Tricia Vessey), hoping to find his old friend Léo and learn the source of his barely controllable sexual fantasies—he's a vampire in his mind. For all the cross-cutting, the movie is largely devoid of suspense—too enamored with its gross-out effects to exert the dreamy fascination of Denis's last exercise in lurid psychopathology, I Can't Sleep.

A scarifying Cro-Magnon beauty, Dalle is convincingly feral in gnawing the skin off her lover's face and smearing herself—as well as the walls—with gore. By comparison, the scruffily dandified Gallo comes across as merely petulant. (Descas completes the sense of designer casting with his motorcycle-riding, wonderfully perfunctory doctor: "Cut down on the cigarettes," he tells one patient by way of concluding a physical.) Although not improved by the dialogue (over half in English), Trouble Every Day is helped a bit by cinematographer Agnès Godard's sensuous impressionism and the jagged romanticism of the Tindersticks score.


"As cold and hard as a stone": Phoenix in Esther Kahn
photo: Empire
"As cold and hard as a stone": Phoenix in Esther Kahn

Details

Esther Kahn
Directed by Arnaud Desplechin
Written by Desplechin and Emmanuel Bourdieu, from the story by Arthur Symons
Empire
Opens March 1

Trouble Every Day
Directed by Claire Denis
Written by Denis and Jean-Pol Fargeau
Lot 47
Quad
Opens March 1

Pépé le Moko
Directed by Julien Duvivier
Written by Duvivier, Détective Ashelbé, and Jacques Constant, from the novel by Ashelbé
Rialto
Film Forum
March 1 through 14

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Trouble Every Dayis perhaps part of French cinema's campaign to meet Hollywood genre filmmaking on its own terms, but it's more languid than action-oriented. Appropriately, one of the great international hits of classic French cinema, Julien Duvivier's 1937 Pépé le Moko returns in a luscious new print, courtesy of Rialto (the first name in black-and-white art-house restoration). This tale of a French gangster holed up in the Casbah—shelved for several years by its American distributor so as not to upstage its Hollywood remake, Algiers—has the exotic atmosphere of Morocco but lacks the intensity of Sternberg's total aestheticism. (As an expression of French colonial fantasy, Pépé would make an interesting double bill with The Battle of Algiers, which not only employs the same locations but has several parallel scenes.)

Slumming playgirl Gaby (Mireille Balin) ventures into the labyrinth of the Arab quarter and there meets the dangerously charming Pépé (Jean Gabin). The prolonged analytical shot-countershot telegraphs animal attraction, as the dude sizes up the dame's jewels and other charms while she gazes deep into his pale eyes. Gaby is a willowy, elegant creature—freshly painted, wrapped in silk, and tied in pearls. You can almost smell the perfume that triggers Pépé's sudden, ultimately fatal nostalgia for Paris. The triangle is completed by Inspector Slimane (Lucas Gridoux), the sexually ambiguous and shrewdly unctuous Algerian inspector who brings the lovers together to effect Pépé's doom.

Casually racist and inordinately sexist, Pépé le Moko is best enjoyed for its offhand surrealism. No one can fail to be surprised by the happy rumba with which the charismatic Gabin (an erstwhile variety performer) serenades his neighborhood in the aftermath of his glamorous tryst. More serious is the scene in which Pépé prepares to crash out, dressed for the occasion in a panama, a silk scarf, and spats. The Casbah melting behind him like a dream, he heads for the sea—rushing toward a death at once romantic and existential.

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