Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s second feature is the rare film that attempts to completely reimagine the cinematic wheel and succeeds, an odd thought considering that the project is clearly a throwback to a now-dead genre. To shoehorn it with the label of pastiche would, however, be a huge disservice; The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears is so much more than a simple homage to the giallo films of years past, it’s an effective and abstract exploration of colour, biology, and states of being, a staunchly auteurist endeavor from the husband and wife team behind Amer that they conceived and wrote seven years prior to that film’s release. It’s a project that was nine years in the making, and is – while referential – ultimately original, and unlike anything currently being made by anyone else in cinema today.
The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears follows Dan Kristensen (Klaus Tange) as he traverses the labyrinthian flats of his apartment building in an attempt to unravel the cause of his wife’s disappearance. We see Dan led on a wild goose-chase by his neighbours and even the apartment structure itself, engaging in cryptic conversation and encountering abstract clues at every turn. In saying this, it becomes increasingly apparent that Forzani and Cattet care little about constructing a plot-driven narrative as the film progresses; rather, the duo are much more interested in visuality and abstraction, emotion and metaphysical states. The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears is, in this sense, unlike anything else you’re likely to encounter in the modern film-making tradition; it’s one of the most unique and original experiences to be brought to the screen over the past few decades – a film that devours all the disparate elements of gialli films and cultural artifacts of years past and combines them together in what feels like the world’s first post-giallo feature.1
In some senses, The Strange Color of Your Bodies Tears – the title is a reference to The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh, All The Colors Of The Dark, and What Are Those Strange Drops of Blood on Jennifer’s Body? – is the ultimate giallo film that never got made. It’s a film that fully commits to a metaphysical structure, preferencing an exploration of the psyche over plot and traditional narrative forms, with the same rich, primary and secondary colour driven palettes found throughout the work of the greats like Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, and Mario Bava. References don’t come solely from the gialli tradition either – there are clear Lynchian nods, as well as riffs on Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs and The Nightmare on Elm Street.2 In this sense, the film is a deeply affectionate evocation of all the elements Cattet and Forzani love in horror cinema, lacking even an air of pretension in its execution. Also of note is the unparalleled sound design, one with a rich dynamic range that sees the employment of a number of experimental audio illusions and tricks, that sees Cattet and Forzani continue the experiments with Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response which they commenced in their brilliant O is for Orgasm short from The ABCs of Death – at its best, Cattet and Forzani tones are teeth-shakingly piercing and their foley-work, a minor segment of which was conducted by Peter Strickland while working on Berberian Sound Studio, is literally goosebump-inducing.
Much of the criticism this film has focused on its obtuse and convoluted plot, however this approach seems to ignore the very point of Cattet and Forzani’s work. The duo provide all of the puzzle pieces necessary to force a search for meaning – a box filled with childhood trinkets, corpses with vaginal knife wounds in their skulls, nightmarish forces tearing our lead from the inside out – but no solution. Cattet and Forzani wish to retrain the eyes and the brains of their audience, teaching us to find beauty and meaning in colour, repetition and abstract symbolism, rather than focus solely on drawing out a storyline with an overtly clear beginning, middle, and end. In this sense, The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears operates in a sort of transcendent mode of film-making, rethinking and reimagining the broad tropes and conventions that have defined the somewhat stale state of mainstream cinema for far too long. It’s a brilliant and effective experiment, a deeply personal masterwork that functions on levels far beyond the comprehension of a traditional plot-focused film analysis.
It’s a travesty that The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears has no Australian distributor, and remarkable that it’s taken a niche festival to bring this to the big screen in our country a whopping two years after its theatrical debut at Locarno in 2013. Full credit should be given to the team behind the Queensland Film Festival for believing in a film that would (under the rule of any traditionally curated festival) never get a look in due to its age and prior (international) home video release, as a domestic theatrical screening of The Strange Color Of Your Body’s Tears was more than worth the wait.
Cattet and Forzani’s creation is unlike anything else coming out of the horror community today, important experimental cinema intent on breaking the rules and redefining boundaries. It’s a deeply personal and unique endeavor that also manages to comfortably sit within a mode of homage without relying on parody, something that separates it from films like The Editor, Kingsman: The Secret Service, and even The Duke of Burgundy.3 Nothing in recent memory has impressed me personally as much as The Strange Color Of Your Body’s Tears and with it Cattet and Forzani have more than cemented themselves within the contemporary filmmaking community as a duo to watch.