Giallo fans rejoiced at the news that the fading genre’s new premiere directing couple, namely Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, were returning with their sophomore feature The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013). As with their critically successful feature debut, Amer (2009), its latest offering is entrenched deeply in the visual and aural traditions of the giallo genre, but they’ve once again embraced style over substance by pushing narrative cohesion even further from the focus of their lushly-filled frame. It makes for a visceral, deeply sensory experience that does unfortunately begin to wear out its welcome before the end of its 100-minute runtime.
The film’s premise is arguably all that one can really, in all good faith, proffer of its plot with any degree of certainty; after the initial setup, it birls down a rabbit-hole into a kaleidoscopic labyrinth of gleaming blades, blood-curdling screams and psychosexual violence. After an initial opening that sees a brutal monochrome murder, the action rests with Dan Kristensen (Klaus Tange) arriving home to find his front door bolted and no sign of his wife. A detective soon arrives to aid the investigation into the strange and devious goings-on in the glorious art-nouveau Brussels apartment block. No sooner has narrative been established than it is effectively driven from the screen by Cattet and Forzani’s hypnotic exploration. And yet, this isn’t giallo so much as experimental European arthouse fare.
Narrative and motive are deliberately obscured in favour of a film that audiences must allow to wash over them. Attempting to construct its story – at least on first viewing, and probably afterwards – is likely to lead more to exasperation that fulfilment. Visually, as those that experienced Amer would expect, it is breathtaking with regular cinematographer Manual Dacosse and editor Bernard Beets going to town with the breadth and depth of the giallo-infused framing and cutting. Despite being able to admire its style, though, there is something distinctly lacking underneath the skin of The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears. Giallo fans will undoubtedly be able to sit back and enjoy a ride that at times evokes physical responses in its web of blood and lust.
The spell may not take hold of all, however, and they will unfortunately be left wondering what this was all in aid of. With Amer, the couple made a wonderful giallo homage with seemingly little narrative or emotional intent, with The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears they have done the same but crafted something more instinctual and yet more oblique. It has understandably enamoured its champions, but it might have been nice to see Cattet and Forzani plunge the knife a little deeper, rather than slashing at the skin – regardless of how much debauched fun that might be.
The 57th BFI London Film Festival takes place from 9-20 October, 2013. For more of our LFF 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.