Home Video Hovel: The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears, by Aaron Pinkston
I have a complicated relationship with Italian horror films. I’m an unashamed fan of Dario Argento (especially the 70s and 80s era), but I’ve never enjoyed the works of the other recognized masters of the genre. I’ll admit that most of my experience with these films are at 1:00am screenings during movie marathons, which is either the ideal or worst possible situation for viewing these films; the latter has more often been the case. French filmmakers Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani certainly see something in these intense and often incomprehensible psychosexual thrillers – their debut feature Amer (2009) was a red-saturated, impenetrable love letter to Giallo, and their follow up, The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears, establishes their admiration as more than a passing fancy, and into a real trend.
Dan Kristensen, an ordinary communications manager, returns home from a work trip to find his front door locked from the inside and his wife inexplicably missing. In a series of following fever dreams or hallucinations, Dan has increasingly strange encounters with his odd neighbors and a twisted version of himself. These sequences cut across the reporting detective’s initial investigation, though there is no real indication of how this is possible. It is assumed that the detective’s scenes happen within a short sequence with the long interludes out of any real concept of time. This structure, along with the directors’ hyper style, adds up to a spellbinding experience. Compared to Cattet and Forzani’s debut, however, The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears has much more narrative drive, even when it is only a basic sketch itself.
Among the film’s best scene is one of its most straightforward. When the detective arrives at Kristensen’s apartment the day after his wife’s disappearance, his questioning is similar to most any primetime detective series (though perhaps a bit more heightened and rhythmic). The screen is chopped up in multiple images and layers, giving the rather humdrum questioning the presence and impact of an integral setpiece. This marriage between narrative and the ultra aggressive style is more invigorating than the film’s more dense sequences.
The overall style of The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears is psychodelic – a kaleidoscope of insert shorts, close-ups and double images, cut to harsh music and sound effects. It is incredibly, almost hyper-realistically, tactile. Every small action, such as pushing a button or sliding silk sheets over a naked body, is fully emphasised. The crisp foley sounds give as close to an actual sensation of feeling than any film I’ve ever seen. From a purely sensory view, The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears is a marvel. The highlight sound design even provides the closest to what would be considered traditional scares, as piercing buzzers, creaking doors and the uniquely distinguishable stretch of leather raise the tension.
The film is presented like a puzzle box, though I’m not sure there is much actually there. Perhaps as a defense, the films it idolizes were often un-mysterious mysteries, so I really doubt that The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears honestly cares to put its efforts into making a satisfying mystery thriller. There are a few enigmatic images toward the end that suggest that it’s possible more may be “figured out” with multiple viewings, though most who watch the film probably won’t have the patience for a revisit.
The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears is clearly a divisive film that will alienate many, maybe even a majority of its viewers. To its detriment, it doesn’t seem to realize that, and it never has any fun provoking its audience (the film could use a lesson from fellow Euro film artists Lars von Trier and Michael Haneke). This is an ultimate case of style over substance, and the style is absolutely worthy. Though Cattet and Forzani’s style may be indefensibly pretentious at times, they throw so much at your eyes and ears that it becomes an exhaustive marvel. For me, there is even just enough substance. There is at least a recognizable entry until the style fully takes over.