“THE STRANGE COLOUR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS” (TIFF Movie Review)
With a title deliberately riffing on Giuliano Carnimeo’s WHAT ARE THOSE STRANGE DROPS OF BLOOD DOING ON THE BODY OF JENNIFER? (1972), Belgian neo-giallo super-couple Bruno Forzani and Helene Cattet (AMER, 2009) are at it again, this time with their most ambitious experimental work to date.
This is an important point to keep in mind. THE STRANGE COLOUR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS is not a giallo film. It is an experimental film that trades in the signifiers of giallo: the sensuality, the gleaming blades and gloves, the patterned wallpaper that hides secret rooms, the confused, ineffectual protagonist.
As much as one can describe the ‘plot’ of STRANGE COLOUR, it could be said that it’s about a man looking for his missing wife who discovers that she had some strange connection to a sexually deviant woman upstairs, and that all the enigmatic neighbours in his labyrinthine apartment house know more than they are letting on.
But even if you can’t pull out any more than this in terms of narrative, the film washes over the viewer, hypnotizing and assaulting in equal measure. Admittedly it’s hard to top the lip-splitting denoument of their debut feature AMER, but in virtually every other way it is a more advanced film, if far more impenetrable (AMER seems like a straightforward narrative in comparison, which may be a daunting thought to some viewers). Conceptually and visually, STRANGE COLOUR actually harks back to the couple’s earlier short films – which makes sense considering it was scripted just after their second short, CHAMBRE JAUNE (2002), had its run on the festival circuit – but the film also contains all the influences they’ve picked up along the way since then (which include a more unrepentant sexuality than their giallo counterparts), making it a culmination rather than just a stylish retread of previous ideas.
Where AMER had lengthy segments infused with daylight (its sunny predatory voyeurism reminiscent of both Antonioni’s L’AVVENTURA and Argento’s TENEBRAE, after a gothic first act seemingly indebted to Bava’s “A DROP OF WATER”), STRANGE COLOR is deliberately opaque from beginning to end. Characters struggle to “see” what is going on – often, as with AMER, through peepholes – taking in only impressions of the action, never the full picture. They are left to take these pieces and assemble them into some kind of storyline, just as we are. And despite this very giallo-esque act of “witnessing”, and the associated questions concerning the reliability of witnessing, events are obscured to the point where the very raison d’etre of the giallo film – the murder setpiece – is equally fragmented. The investigation – already an illogical amateur affair in the giallo universe – is mocked outright; that attempt to pin a meaning on the mystery is rewarded with visual cues that expose the whole conceit of investigation as a joke.
The sound design is alternatively lush, abrasive and piercing (in one trans-diegetic sequence a character yells something to the effect of “turn off that music it’s terrible!”, creating a moment of levity that the audience seemed grateful for) and the breathtaking hybridized baroque/art deco production design – including some remarkable stained glass backdrops that recalled the mistresses’ lairs in both Elio Petri’s INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION (1970) and Joe Massot’s WONDERWALL (1968)– reveal the aesthetic vision of STRANGE COLOUR as simply unmatched by anything being made in the genre today. It is a seamless marriage of experimental and genre cinema that could act as a gateway for those who don’t yet recognize the relevance of experimental film to their own movie-going diet. That said, the movie is likely to attract its share of haters, like any challenging work. But for the adventurous viewer, THE STRANGE COLOUR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS could be a mind-altering experience, best enjoyed loud and on the big screen.