AKA L’étrange couleur des larmes de ton corps. Belgium. Directed by Bruno Forzani & Hélène Cattet, 2013. Starring Klaus Tange, Ursula Bedener, Joe Koener. 104 minutes.
Leather gloves, straight-razors, primary color filters, funk-influenced Euro-prog, and lots of naked women. This can mean only one thing: the genre’s foremost pasticheurs of giallo, the Belgian duo Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, are back!
Well…let’s back up a bit. I kind of lied when I said “this can mean only one thing.” Giallo throwback felt fresh in 2009, when the pair burst on the scene with their feature début Amer. But over the past few years, neo-giallo has become a bit of a thing thanks to the likes of Berberian Sound Studio and Sonno Profondo. Now that Cattet and Forzani are no longer the only game in town, the novelty has worn off.
Still, that doesn’t make Strange Color a bad film, and unlike Amer it actually features a plot. It revolves around a telecom executive (Klaus Tange) who returns from a business trip to find his wife entirely missing from an apartment chain-locked from the inside. Tange’s investigation probes into the secret history of the apartment house, allowing for any number of diversions from his bizarre neighbors. The story is very thin at times and is difficult to follow at its best, but at least it’s there.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking Strange Color is a case of style over substance, though. For Cattet and Forzani, style is substance, and their goal here, as always, is to combine their themes (the connection between the erotic and the violent) with the giallo audio-visual conventions to create a specific effect in the viewer. With its nightmarish imagery–a man tearing his way out of his own double’s body (using a straight-razor, natch), a hole in the ceiling that drips blood, stab wounds that look like vaginas and vice-versa–the film feels like a stomach-churningly vivid bad trip.
The downside of all this is that it’s not particularly accessible, even to casual fans of vintage giallo: it deconstructs the conventions so thoroughly that it’s almost impenetrable. Even devotées might find themselves frustrated at how ready and willing the filmmakers are to repeat their visual leitmotifs over the course of the film. And that’s quite apart from the fact that the pair are beginning to seem a bit like a one-trick pony: there’s very little here that they haven’t done before, not just in Amer, but in their short films such as “O is for Orgasm,” their segment of The ABCs of Death. Even the “series of photographs” conceit (think La Jetée) was the centerpiece of their 2002 short The Yellow Room.
Yet even if it does turn out that Cattet and Forzani only have a one-octave keyboard, I won’t deny that they play it exceptionally well, and The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears makes a fine addition to their body of work. A treat for the neo-giallo’s base of superfans.