If the phrase "Clair Denis's hommage a Jose Larraz" means something to you, you're ideally suited to appreciate this odd mix of art-film opacity and graphic gore. A honeymooning American couple, Shane and June Brown (Vincent Gallo, Tricia Vessey), arrive in Paris and check into their hotel. Meanwhile, in a nondescript French suburb, Core (Beatrice Dalle), whose apparently disabled car is parked off to the side of an isolated road, solicits help from a thuggish truck driver whose eyes gleam with evil intent. It seems obvious where each scene is leading, and neither goes the way you'd expect. The apparently blissful honeymooners spend a night filled with frustration and unspoken recriminations, because Shane won't sleep with his new bride or tell her what's wrong. Back in the suburbs, Core's husband, Leo (Alex Descas), finds her covered with blood, but it's the truck driver who's dead. Leo promptly buries the corpse and hustles Core home to get cleaned up. Having set up a fine mystery, director/co-writer Denis unravels it in spare, elliptical strokes. Shane, who works for a pharmaceutical company, spends his days calling a clinic that specializes in sexual disorders, desperately searching for a doctor who left under some sort of cloud. Shane and the missing medic know each other from some top-secret project on which they once worked together. The devoted Leo a doctor with a small-town practice tells people his beloved Core is unwell and locks her in the house when he goes to work, hoping to stop her from seducing men and feasting on their flesh. As the two men pursue their clandestine missions, three secondary characters unwitting inch towards their secrets: Disaffected chambermaid Christelle (Florence Loiret-Caille) flirts half-heartedly with Shane, while two bored youths (Nicholas Duvauchelle, Raphael Neal) try to break into Leo's house while he's at work, assuming that a doctor probably keeps good drugs on the premises. The film's mix of sex and graphic gore strongly recalls go-for-broke shockers like Spanish provocateur Jose Larraz's VAMPYRES (1970), rendered with an icy minimalism that betrays Denis's art-house roots: Her bare-bones narrative more closely resembles an outline for a '70s exploitation picture than the finished product. The film caused a ruckus at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, where viewers reportedly fainted. This is no doubt sheer hype, but the extremely intimate violence is more explicit than is the mainstream norm, and Dalle's mouth is the stuff of nightmares.
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