Permanent Midnight is a weekly Complex Pop Culture column where senior staff writer, and resident genre fiction fanatic, Matt Barone will put the spotlight on the best new indie horror/sci-fi/weirdo cinema, twisted novels, and other below-the-radar oddities.
The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears isn’t the kind of movie you’d want to watch in the morning, or even in the afternoon. I first saw it last September at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it screened around 9:30 at night but felt like the start of a new day. It’s a visual stimulant, the perfect jolt one needs after a long day filled with workplace drudgery, numbing lifestyle repetitions, or four previous movies. Come nightfall, when a hard-working sap’s mind nearly mush, a film like this, 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 excessive style over tangible narrative, The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears is a potent, one-of-a-kind fix.
At that TIFF screening, though, 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 Color 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 Color 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 (Ursula Bedena), is missing. 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 that wouldn't be entirely accurate. 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 bodies’ interiors 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.
What does it all mean? Hell if I know, and, frankly, hell if I care. Could the 102-minute film afford to lose 15-20 of those minutes? Probably, but forget about that. The title itself is a put-on. Aside from its allusion to blood, "the strange color of your body’s tears" means nothing within the context of The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears. It just sounds cool.
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 madcap 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 viewers in Toronto who walked out of The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears long before the scene played.
I, for one, looked a lot like this the entire time:
The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears opens in limited theatrical release today, via Strand Releasing.