In 2009 Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani pulled of the rare feat of uniting Art house cineastes and horror movie geeks in shock and delight with their first feature, a love letter to Giallo Horror, Amer. They have now boldly followed it up with the dazzlingly bravura, unapologetically opaque and deliciously titled The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears
The perceivable plot is a story about a Danish man (Tange) who returns from the airport to find the door to his apartment locked from the inside and wife not at home. Intercut with his homecoming are black & white stuttering stop motion photos of a naked woman in the throes of carnal ecstasy, her nipple being caressed by the blade of a dagger. After the Police prove useless it’s now up to the protagonist to investigate the disappearance of his wife but solving this mystery means turning his attention to his forbidding, labyrinthine Art Nouveau apartment building and discovering its many connecting secrets. How these jigsaw pieces fit together is slowly, eye-catchingly and cryptically revealed but not in any conventional way.
The film unfolds like a dream but not like a Hollywood dream where, despite the strangeness, the dream remains coherent and dictates useful messages to the protagonist to be sussed out in waking life. No, this is a more truer representation of the mesmerising and confounding nature of dream logic that you’ve also seen in the films of David Lynch, Alain Resnais and Charlie Kaufman. Films where reality conflates with memory, imagination and dormant fears and desires to create a world whose meaning is as indefinable as the beguiling refection of a carnival mirror.
This film has divided critics and festival audiences alike but one thing they have been united on is its outstanding visuals and colourful and atmospheric use of sound. Every scene has a wonderfully creative sense of mise-en-scene, hypnotic use of colours, shapes, film stocks and set design. The soundtrack has a Tarantino / Wes Anderson flair for using pre-existing pieces of music – in this film’s case, classic pieces from Italian composers Bruno Nicolai & Ennio Morricone. The music blends so enthrallingly, terrifyingly with the film’s inventive sound design.
All of this is in keeping with the ‘Haute Couture Slasher’ genre that Mario Bava & Dario Argento defined but this film adds some poetic visual motifs into the revolting sequences like a gaping head-wound that resembles a vagina and a slow motion montage of glass breaking on naked bodies as they press together. There is also social commentary on the racial and cultural melting pot of today’s Brussels where uncontrollable Latin passions crosses paths dramatically with Germanic rationality.
Cattet and Forzani make us feel like dumbfounded voyeurs peeping slack-jawed into a ravishing nightmare that unfurls plots within plots like a Russian doll murder mystery, each one oozing more style, eroticism, shocking horror and edge-of-your-seat creepy suspense than the next. It’s pure sensation where grappling with the plot is like playing with a mind scrambling rubix cube of subtext and clues. The film’s creators lay the mystery all out in riveting pieces for the audience to do all the hard work in putting it together instead of enduring it until it eventually, reassuringly straightens itself out like the conclusion to a baffling magic trick that comes together in a delightfully unexpected way, leaving us to applaud its ingenuity. This film is more like figuring out a macabre math problem where the fun is in sticking with it instead of throwing in the towel, frustrated, and writing it off as ‘indulgent nonsense’ because we’re so used to being spoon fed that when we’re faced with anything that dares to provokes us out of our stupor, like a smashed alarm clock, we hold it in sulky contempt.
When I first saw this film on the last day of the London Film Festival I left it shaken by it and woke up the next day still haunted by its startlingly heady and alluring imagery. Seeing it a second time the puzzle pieces became easier to slot together but I’m yet to completely solve its mystery. I guess I’ll be paying that scary apartment a revisit.