Starring Klaus Tange , Ursula Bedena & Joe Koener
Directors Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani are no strangers to the sensual, sexualised violence of the giallo. Their first feature, Amer, draws heavily from that, and their segment in The ABCs of Death- the distinctive O for Orgasm- is also loosely inspired by that genre. For the uninitiated, the abundance of nasty Art Deco architecture, black leather gloves, and neon lights, might all seem a bit bizarre, but rest assured it’s perfectly normal. Well, as normal as giallo can be. It’s a relatively obscure genre in the UK and USA, but in Italy and to a lesser extent the rest of Europe it was huge in its 70s heyday. Named after cheap yellow detective books, giallo films typically follow a thriller format, and are characterised by high stylisation- think Hitchcock on acid- and hyper-sexualised violence. A typical giallo will feature some dizzying camerawork following a murderer of beautiful women. If this sounds familiar, it might be because the giallo is such a huge influence on the slasher, particularly via Halloween which is basically giallo style applied to a more morally puritanical Middle America outlook.
This might seem a little off-topic, but The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears is drenched in giallo style right from the opening sequence, which directly references Dario Argento’s Suspiria (a reference which pops up a few more times). The plot, what little there is of it, follows Dan (Tange), a businessman returning home from a trip to find that his wife has gone missing. To add complication to matters, the security chain on their home’s door was still attached, meaning she apparently didn’t leave the apartment. Over the course of the film, we meet several other characters who have had experiences with some sort of malevolent force in the Art Deco apartment building where they (and Dan) live. Whether this force is the apartment building itself, or a killer, or possibly killers, is never really resolved; instead, a slowly building mystery is pieced together from the disparate stories of these survivors of violence. In this respect, it’s almost more an anthology film than a straightforward mystery narrative; the narrative is deliberately fractured, offering multiple red herrings (both in terms of possible solutions and possible ‘symbols’ which come to nothing).
By the end of the film, a huge amount of sexualised and violent imagery has passed before our eyes, along with a lot of Art Deco architecture (lovingly photographed), slightly ugly murals, and ornate stained glass, but the identity of the killer is still unknown. This frustration is deliberate, as far as I understand it, and the film uses its lack of resolution to position a number of alternative takes on its own events which tie into how one might choose to interpret the often-ambiguous imagery presented within.
Perhaps the one clear thing about this film is that these filmmakers really know their imagery. A few particularly striking examples include a woman turning into a glass statue, which explodes; men in fedoras and raincoats who walk on ceilings and slip inside wallpaper to chase a woman through her bedroom, and a man entering the ceiling of a house as his wife listens to his footsteps below using a stethoscope. It’s frustrating that this never coalesces into something which can be grasped, but that seems to sort of be the point.
Ultimately, whether or not you are on board with this stylistic experimentation determines whether you will like the film. For my money, I bought into this, especially since I’m a massive fan of giallo films in general. But while The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears does excel in imitating the giallo imagery, and providing new imagery of its own, the effort they expend doing so stretches other parts of the film rather thin. The characterisation and plot struggle, but mostly the film feels somewhat cold.
There’s a sense that in imitating other work, the filmmakers are focusing on ticking boxes to make their pastiche more accurate, and in the meantime losing the joy of their work. Granted, it’s not uncommon for giallo films to have shallow characters, or nonsensical plots; the ‘canonical’ giallos, like Suspiria and Deep Red, are definitely guilty of this. But where those films differ is the sheer force of the creative input behind them; they feel full to the brim of life, guided by fierce creative minds, and this helps paper the cracks that the focus on stylisation can bring. Sure, Suspiria’s plot is thinner than the paper it’s written on, but you can feel Argento behind the camera at every turn, joyously engaged in his work. By contrast, The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears misses this crucial element, and as a result often feels like it’s dragging as the directors run from one (admittedly gorgeous) image to another.
The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears is perhaps best seen as an interesting oddity, rather than as a straightforward horror film or art flick. Not entirely successful in either respect, it nevertheless offers a relatively singular vision quite apart from most of what horror filmmakers currently offer. The skill that Cattet and Forzani show in crafting imagery will serve them well as they continue making films, and if an ability to reliably portray interesting characters, strong plots, or even just have a little fun with their own work can develop alongside this, they will be formidable contributors to horror.