Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
Directors: Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani
Stars: Klaus Tange, Jean-Michel Vovk, Sylvia Camarda, Sam Louwyck, Anna D’Annunzio, Manon Beuchot, Ursula Bedena, Birgit Yew, Hans de Munter
Running time: 102 minutes
The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears isn't the kind of movie you'd want to watch in the morning, or even in the afternoon, and especially not at a film festival like Toronto's. It's a visual stimulant, the perfect jolt one needs after a long day filled with prestige pictures and lethargic, character-driven dramas. Come nightfall, when a festival goer's brain is nearly mush, a film like the latest from French provocateurs Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani is a shock to the system—that is, if you're willing to submit to its sheer craziness. If you're able to appreciate movies that favor style over narrative or substance, The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears is a potent, one-of-a-kind fix.
However, at last night's TIFF screening, the majority of the press and industry members in attendance weren't having it. About 15 or 16 people grabbed their belongings and vacated to the nearest exit at various points, and then I lost count. It's understandable. Bombarding the senses with gorgeous images soaked in blood-red and sexual perversion, The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears can be described as a throwback mixtape packed with covers of psychedelic '70s Italian horror, with a heavy leaning toward blatant erotica. DJ Argento Presents Sex and Death, Vol. 1. As they did in their stunning 2009 feature-length debut, the surrealistic "giallo" homage Amer (with its badass poster art), Cattet and Forzani treat the camera like a murder weapon, slashing it across rooms, penetrating characters' eyeballs in extreme close-ups, emphasizing the garish color schemes, and obscuring conversations with multiple split screens. They're not telling a story so much as transmitting hallucinations.
There's a morsel of a story at work in The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears, a mere fragment of a tale. A surly guy named Dan Kristensen (Klaus Tange) returns home from a business trip in Frankfurt, Germany, to see that his apartment's empty and his wife, Edwige, is missing. And that's basically all Cattet and Forzani offer in the way of plot.
You could say that Dan searches throughout his ornately designed building—think Salvador Dali and Mario Bava guest-hosting Extreme Makeover: Home Edition together—for any clues into Edwige's whereabouts, but, come to think of it, it wouldn't be entirely accurate to say so. Rather than an investigation, it's a random trip through a funhouse of expressionistic nightmares. The elderly woman upstairs tells Dan a story, seen in what are possibly "flashbacks," about the time her husband disappeared into the ceiling. Her younger, beautiful neighbor, meanwhile, has a body that, when naked, glows like a lightbulb. Later into the night, a naked Dan is chased through his apartment by several other naked Dans, with some of them getting stabbed repeatedly, shown from both the interiors of his body to the exteriors. Intercut through these scenes are looped black-and-white images—yes, in close-ups—of Edwige moaning erotically as someone caresses her nude body with a knife, paying extra special attention to one of her nipples.
What does it all mean? Hell if I know, and, frankly, hell if I care. Could the film afford to lose 15-20 minutes? Probably, but forget about that. The title itself is a put-on. Aside from its allusion to blood, "the strange colour of your body's tears" means nothing within the context of The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears. It just sounds cool. So be it.
To fully appreciate Cattet and Forzani's moving collage of a film, you need to abandon concepts like "conflict," "characterization," and "meaning" and allow yourself to bask in the endless phantasmagoria. If you do so, you'll be rewarded with numerous sequences that, in terms of mental scarring, rival anything seen in horror movies recently. My personal favorite: an extended black-and-white stalk-and-slash scene that's pure giallo, with a sexy lady being hunted by a killer dressed in all black leather, except the film skips throughout as if its playing on scratched vinyl.
I'll be damned if there's another moment in any other horror flick this year that tops it. I feel bad for those close-minded saps who walked out The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears before it happened.