If you’re one of the people who has checked out my web series, Moviocrity, you know that I have a love of exploitation and cult cinema. You also know that I have at least a working knowledge of video editing. Neither of these things is new to me. Twenty-five years ago (dear God), I started tinkering around with video editing, on the old school machines that took up a small room. None of these amazingly convenient and intuitive pieces of non-linear editing software, embedded right in laptops. No, this was done tape-to-tape, complete with generations of decreasing quality, and pots you needed to turn to get to the next spot in your video. We also had to turn a crank to get our televisions working and we rode wooden horses to the market, because actual horses hadn’t been invented yet.
One of the first things I did was apply my other love of the time, low-budget cult cinema, to my new fascination. As a teenager, I hosted the occasional show talking about these films, using the blanket term “b-movies” to describe everything from Corman to Argento. I also made various music videos, using hacked up pieces of imagery from the films I loved, the stranger the better. In my videos, shots from films as varied as FRITZ THE CAT, SUSPIRIA, FORBIDDEN WORLD and THE WILD BUNCH all comingled. Making sense of it wasn’t a necessity. The meaning would be revealed once everything was pieced together.
Teenage me would have had a field day with THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS. As for adult me, well that’s a bit more complicated.
THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS either has a very complicated plot or almost no plot at all, depending on how you look at it. The film opens with our protagonist Dan (Klaus Tange) returning home from a business trip. Upon entering his apartment complex, the building appears to transform, images multiply and then compress, undulating, layering and writhing before righting itself before our eyes.
Dan has to force his way into his own apartment and immediately notices that his wife has disappeared. He panics, especially when the police don’t buy his story. After all, how could she have disappeared when Dan had to break the chain to the apartment just to gain entrance?
Mysteries upon mysteries are introduced. We get side stories which may or may not be related to the disappearance of Dan’s wife. We learn that his wife might not be the person he thought she was, that previously held notions of the inner and outer world are suspect and that there may be a greater conspiracy at work.
STRANGE COLOR was directed by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani. It is their follow-up to AMER, a film I confess I have yet to see, despite its sterling reputation. This new film pays homage to the giallo pictures invented by Mario Bava and further refined by other great Italian filmmakers. There are various visual nods to the genre throughout the film. The lighting scheme, the costumes and even an early image of a matchbook all seem to point to the giallo as a primary influence. If that doesn’t drive the point home, there is the twisting plot and the choice to appropriate various tracks from giallo soundtracks.
The film is a visual feast. The viewer is bombarded with various colors and radical filmmaking techniques. You could take several stills from any scene in this film and hang them up in an art gallery. Cattet and Forzani are primarily concerned with digging deep down into the marrow of both the visual and sound design. On the auditory end, there is a constant thrum of something sinister in the distance. Small noises are amplified. Cattet and Forzani seem to take special interest in the sound fabrics make against flesh, or the sound blades make against leather.
But while this may pay homage to the giallo, it’s safe to say that it is not a giallo in itself. Rather, STRANGE COLOR feels like an art film with strong giallo leanings. It’s what happens when you hand a standard mystery to someone who is not a veteran filmmaker. This is not to call Cattet and Forzani amateurs, far from it. They are skilled visual artists with no apparent allegiance to logic, discipline or coherence.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Something I find myself saying quite often is that logic is overvalued in art and undervalued in everyday life. If you look at DEEP RED, DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING, THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH, WHO SAW HER DIE?, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE? or countless other giallos, there are many quirks that work for those particular pieces of art. And yet these same things would never fly in real life. But who cares? Our western brains need to realize that it’s the story that counts and sometimes that means damning reason.
But that’s where STRANGE COLOR differs. These other films threw out reason in favor of the story, but Cattet and Forzani have thrown the story out as well. Keeping the focus on Italian horror, there is a sense that story is suspended in other films such as Argento’s SUSPIRIA or Fulci’s THE BEYOND. However, those films still hinge on a framework and natural progression, leading to a bravura climax. Even the increasingly improvisational filmmaking technique of Godard has a sense that things should be going somewhere.
STRANGE COLOR is beautiful, absolutely gorgeous in fact, and I was willing to get swept up in the ride. But eventually, the images become far more random and it seems as though there is no framework or natural progression, as if these are inconveniences to a pair of talented visual artists who want to play around with light, color and shadow some more. This is perfectly fine for an abstract or short film. But for a feature that throws up so many questions, it’s simply not enough to toss out more questions before walking away. And it’s not acceptable to tie up half the threads in such an unsatisfying and haphazard manner.
THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS is a constant barrage of mood, of sound, of striking images. But it ends up in a place that suggests the filmmakers neither knew nor cared how to solve their own puzzle. It’s all wonderful to look at but ultimately unsatisfying to experience. It’s a film too wrapped up in its imagery and not enough in its mystery. Disappointing.
RATING SYSTEM AND CRITERIA
- What was the film trying to accomplish and how well did it meet those goals?
- In addition to (or sometimes despite) that, how does the film hold up on sheer entertainment value?
The Best – Reserved for the absolute cream of the crop.
Highly Recommended – Very good. Far better than your typical film and one that I will remember for some time.
Recommended – Just what it says. This is a good film and earns a recommendation. Don’t think that because it’s not one of the top two categories that these films aren’t worth your time. The “recommended” tag is a winner and nothing to sneer at.
Barely Recommended – The middle of the road. Those films where I didn’t feel it was a complete waste of time, but it didn’t set my world on fire either. Not bad, but leaves me feeling bored and/or apathetic.
Disappointing – Close but no cigar. Does a few things right but is ultimately a whole lot of wasted potential. Not recommended.
Awful – A bad movie. Pure and simple. Not worth your time.
The Worst – The Britta Perry of ratings, though not as entertaining. The bottom of the barrel.