Review: THE STRANGE COLOUR OF YOUR BODY'S TEARS (2013)


The Strange Colour Of Your Body’s Tears, a film of intense psychedelic sequences, begins with a droning noise played out over a series of production credits. Slowly, the tuneless industrial rumble develops into a rhythmic swirl that may suggest, at least to my ears, a sense of falling or spinning. Is this an audio imagining of the edge of consciousness, right before the plunge into dreamland? There is something hypnagogic conveyed in the sound design. It connects, also, to the very first shot of a man sleeping aboard a plane. The camera closes in, focusing on his gently fluttering eyelids. He is dreaming. 

The first question to ask it, 'Yes, but does the rest of the film take place inside his head?' I'm not certain that it at all matters so much. The puzzle at the heart of The Strange Colour Of Your Body's Tears - like a memory - functions in two places: waking life and during sleep. I think the film replicates this gnawing tension. The directors, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, collide the three (dream, life and memory) and watch it go off with a bang - like fireworks. (There's a Freudian pun in there, somewhere.) 
'Sometimes he saw his real face and sometimes a stranger in his place.' 

That line, from Kraftwerk's classic track from Trans-Europe Express (1977), The Hall of Mirrors, boasts an uncanny thematic bearing on the film. As previously mentioned, thanks to a war chest of cinematic techniques, Cattet and Forzani push their dazzling master work way beyond dreams or 'dreams-within-dreams' (I think often that is an apt description of cinema itself). Like a peacock spreading its plumage, the kaleidoscopic majesty is something to savour. Some will argue that the delirium teeters on wilful confusion. Play the game or don’t: with its surrealist imagery, nightmarish tone, visual puns, riddles and staccato editing, The Strange Colour Of Your Body’s Tears is a cinematic marvel of the highest wonderment. 


Like their debut feature, Amer, the directors present a challenging and fragmented narrative but the themes are clear enough: the exploration of a person’s sexual life related to a conflation of pleasure, pain and death via an experience in childhood.


What the film does cleverly is to mask these themes inside a gialli thriller narrative. The Strange Colour Of Your Body's Tears is the movie as Rubik's Cube. And like a Rubik's Cube, you'll either become obsessed with completing it or chuck the bloody thing in a huff after ten minutes. However, for all the film's giddy qualities and an editing style akin to a superstar DJ scratching and mixing away with abandon, the film's central mystery is explicitly confirmed in the final moments. Of course by this point, you might not care one jot. 

Telecommunications business manager Dan Christensen (a reference to the pioneering American abstract painter?) arrives home from a trip abroad and finds his wife, Edwige, is missing. The art nouveau apartment in which the couple live is full of folk who may or may not know her whereabouts. Dan spends the entire time wandering around playing detective, murder victim and bearing witness to all sorts of kinky visions. The film, I think, presents a compendium of his issues with women and how (and why) within this cinemascape they blur almost into one Medusa figure. 


The USP of Cattet and Forzani's style has been described as 'neo-giallo'. However, as well as the gory works of Dario Argento, Mario Bava and Sergio Martino, the film goes further back into cinema history to 1940s psychological thrillers made by Hollywood. Films such as Otto Preminger’s Laura (1944) or Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945). In fact, one of the characters is named in honour of Preminger's classic and ultimately the neo-Laura becomes a vital piece of the puzzle. Another Hollywood production that may have provided an influence is Fritz Lang’s Secret Beyond the Door (1948). For me, even the title appears to invoke the third act of The Strange Colour Of Your Body's Tears.

In Lang’s gothic noir, Michael Redgrave plays an emotionally disturbed architect who re-marries and may want to snuff out his new bride on their wedding night. Although it delivers a cop-out happy ending, the use of the haunted past, primal experience, fetishes, secret chambers and rooms are near-identical elements found in Cattet and Forzani's sophomore picture. Intriguingly, the films both reach something of a shared denouement. Primal (or abusive) episodes in youth often served gialli thrillers as reasons for subsequent slaying campaigns in adulthood, but in Lang’s drama and The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears, older sisters are directly involved and the root cause of 'the mystery'. I might even venture to declare that the film's title a poetic (if icky) observation guided by the giallo tradition for oblique, often lurid, monikers. Its most direct ancestor is Martino's The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (also referenced in the film by the shattered glass imagery).




The film is very much a companion piece to Amer and thus forms a diptych - a His and Hers Psychopathia Sexualis. Cattet and Forzani, however, have talked up a trilogy. Where could it go? Something along the lines of Dressed To Kill (1980)? Or maybe a crazed battle of the sexes might be on the cards? Only time will tell. But, for the sake of a surrealist gag, can we ready the title 'Eyes Wide Cut'?


Further reading:

A masterful analysis of the movie by Anton Bitel from Sight&Sound

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