Director: Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani
Writers: Bruno Forzani, Hélène Cattet
Starring: Klaus Tange, Ursula Bedena, Joe Koener
Producers: François Cognard, Eve Commenge
Running Time: 102 min
BBFC Certificate: 18
Expectations are a strange thing. More often than not, a film is overhyped by its marketing machine or the blogosphere, so feels disappointing once you watch it, even if it's good. Enjoying a film that you had low or no expectations for is great, although it doesn't happen often for someone like me who spends far too much time reading about movies.
When thinking about writing my review of The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears I realised something unusual about my feelings on the film. It was pretty much exactly what I expected it to be. You may think this isn't an unusual feeling as it often happens, especially in the world of cookie cutter Hollywood blockbusters. But that's the point. The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears is anything but a cookie cutter blockbuster. It's a bafflingly surreal headf**k with the slightest of plots and lashings of stylised gore.
I knew exactly what to expect because I'd seen husband and wife writer/director team Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani's previous film, their debut feature Amer, which I reviewed back in 2010 as part of the Celluloid Screams festival.
Like their debut, The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears is a hyper stylised homage to the Italian giallo genre; mystery thrillers/horror films most prevalent in the 70's in the work of Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Mario Bava. Cattet and Forzani do more than simply make cheap imitations of cult classics like Deep Red and A Lizard in a Woman's Skin though. Instead, they distill them down to their most memorable and effective qualities – their stylish and violent set pieces. There is a bit of a story stringing things together though. Dan Kristensen (Klaus Tange) comes back from a business trip to find his wife missing. The police detective he calls over isn't much help, suspecting the husband was to blame through foul play or failing to satisfy her needs. Dan therefore is left to his own devices, asking his unusual neighbours for help in the creepy apartment building in which they live. In doing so he uncovers some strange tales of murder and sex, mainly surrounding a mysterious woman known as Laura.
This gives the film a little more structure than Amer, which was pretty much just three short films shown back to back with only the burgeoning sexuality of a girl growing up giving it any backbone. This, it's follow up, hardly sticks to the main thrust of the story though, instead spending most of its time in flashbacks and/or dreams. Like Amer, it is pretty much just a string of set pieces.
You may think I sound very negative about the film and part of me would love the directors to add a little more substance and character development to their films, but this is still a mightily impressive piece of cinema. Much like Nicolas Winding Refn's last couple of films, this is all about the style and atmosphere, and my God does it have them in spades. If you thought Drive and Only God Forgives looked and sounded good, you haven't seen anything yet. Yes, The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears borrows its stylistic ideas from films which came before it, but even the best of the classic giallo struggled to reach these heights. You have extensive use of close ups, especially of eyes and knives/razors (a staple visual of the genre), plenty of unusual angles, some kaleidoscopic mirroring, split screens and some wonderfully bold use of colour.
And it's this use of colour which stands out most here as it did in Amer. Deep reds in particular suffuse each frame and the brash primary colours are set against the blackest of blacks. Shadows in this film are thick and blend into infinity. One scene has a character almost totally in shadow (other than her legs and hands) so Dan can't see who she is. Of course in reality that wouldn't happen; if there's light in the room you're going to be able to see something, but this film has no desire to be realistic and is all the better for it. Much of the imagery in general is in the realm of the nightmare, with some genuinely unsettling sequences, particularly one where a man is literally inside another man's skin and cuts his way out.
Matching the visual splendour of the film is its sound design. It doesn't have a dense or complicated soundtrack like the Star Wars films, but it uses minimal yet exaggerated sounds incredibly well to crank up the tension and sharpen each slash and stab of the film's blades. Added to this boldly effective foley and sound effect work is some excellent music, culled from various giallo soundtracks. Cattet and Forzani clearly know the genre well and pick a handful of tracks that are either super cool or deeply unnerving, depending on the scene.
Although I wasn't surprised by The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears and it was very similar in style and presentation to Amer, I did prefer it to it's predecessor. Amer frustrated me with its tendency to endlessly repeat shots, making the film feel drawn out and slow. The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears luckily avoided this for the most part, although I would say it could have afforded to be a little shorter due to the lack of strong narrative or characters to keep you engaged or feel fearful for.
It may not be perfect then and I certainly wouldn't recommend it to everyone. You need to be able to accept it as an exercise in style and it helps if you have some sort of knowledge or appreciation of the giallo genre. If you let it get under your skin though, it's a bold and unusual film that wears its influences emblazoned on its sleeve, yet is artful in its approach. In eschewing the shoddy filler of even some of the most well regarded giallo, it creates something more than a carbon copy. The best description would be to call it 'essence of giallo'. This may not be enough to satisfy fully as a film, but it's one hell of an experience – not an easy one, but definitely worth the trip.
The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears is out on 23rd June in the UK on DVD, released by Metrodome. The picture and sound quality is decent although it's such a shame they haven't released a blu-ray version to make the most of the visual and audible treats the film has to offer. I noticed it is available to rent or buy in HD through Amazon Instant Video though, so maybe that's the way to watch it.
The only special features on the DVD are a photo gallery and trailer unfortunately.