A cluttered junk drawer of random visual ideas trying too hard to stick to its strange genre rules.
The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears
After decades of watching movies, I never thought I would discover a genre I had never heard of before. Such is the case–was the case–with “giallo.”
“Giallo” (from the Italian for “yellow”) is a style of filmmaking that mixes a combination of crime, thriller, eroticism, and horror elements with highly stylized visuals and a traditional inclusion of plot attributes (including blade-based murders, shadowy scenes, the killer dressed in black, and psychedelic dream sequences). The genre has been credited with being the inspiration for Hollywood slasher films.
Born in the 1960s and still being made today, the genre has most closely been associated with Italian films, but the latest giallo offering – The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears – comes from France.
The film stars Klaus Tange as Dan Kristensen, a business traveller who comes home from a trip to find his wife Edwige (Ursula Bedena) has gone missing. What is most puzzling about this discovery is that their apartment is locked from the inside, as evidenced by the fastened chain on the front door. An alcohol-fueled night of panic lands Dan in the apartment of an old woman who tells him the story of her husband, a man who also disappeared under mysterious circumstances. As the police and the landlord become involved, things take a darker turn.
The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears is lapel grabbing within the opening minute, starting with an arresting scene shot with mesmerizing style. As weary businessman Dan suffers his bumpy plane ride home, a woman suffers a shockingly sinister fate. Through a series of extreme close-up frames shot in stark black-and-white (a cross between still shots and a strobing sequence, but less off-putting), a person clad in a black leather coat and gloves emerges, with a long shiny blade, to have his way with the unsuspecting (maybe?) wife, until things go too far. Or do they?
And it isn’t just the visuals – it’s the sounds, too. It isn’t an audio track of events so much as a series of sounds that occur during the event. Rope rubs against itself in a knot, heavy leather creaks, steel scrapes against skin.
It’s a shock to the system and yet somehow makes the film hard to look away from.
Circles dominate Dan’s night of worry to the point of near-literal dizziness. A tumbler of scotch, the end of a cigarette, an ever-spinning record album, and the buzzer buttons of his neighbors as he accidentally locks himself out of the building. Round and round he goes. Dan’s night comes to its harrowing peak in the apartment of the mysterious old lady and the chilling tale she conveys to Dan involving sex, voices in the walls, and her husband’s disappearance into their ceiling.
The mystery grows as the cop reveals some of his past (in an erotic flashback), and some of the mystery is solved – with a terrific reveal – when Dan finds an interesting collection of items in his wife’s old hat box.
And no sooner is the mystery set (just how did the door remain locked?), and no sooner do viewers’ eyes adjust to the endless claustrophobia-causing close-ups, and no sooner do their ears become trained to process what is at some times a tsunami of sound and at other times pinpoint aural specificity, then the film steps off a cliff and plummets to its demise.
Once the hat box contents are revealed, co-writers/directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzania don’t know what to do to shepherd the story to a lucid conclusion. An unfortunate reality as this is their second collaborative giallo, their first was 2009’s Amer. Instead, the duo cram in as many giallo devices as possible. This includes an extended dream within a dream within a dream (and maybe a couple of dreams within those) where Dan, in alternating shades of color, watches himself sleep, buzzes himself into the apartment, and slices and stabs himself repeatedly.
It all eventually becomes nothing but a menagerie of moments — a cluttered junk drawer of random visual ideas the filmmakers retrofit into the film. Each moment might be as bizarre, or as shocking, or (in many cases) as visually striking, as the one before it. But the moments never fit or flow the way they seemed to in the first half.
When it’s executed well, form trumping function in a film can make for a unique and satisfying viewing experience. But the difference TSCOYBT’s doesn’t seem to graps is that between bringing to life unique artistic vision, and simply checking off genre-specific boxes in order to fit the niche. This makes for a film that clings tightly to the idea of what it should be, rather than becoming the film it could be.