The Strange Color Of Your Body’s Tears raises a question that often comes up in debates about art and popular culture: Is it fair to knock artists for repeating themselves, when the work they did the first time was pretty good? Filmmakers Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani excited cult-movie buffs a few years back with Amer, a semi-experimental feature film that applies the imagery and music of 1970s Italian giallo thrillers to a series of connected, erotic vignettes—commenting on both the genre and on their lead character’s sexual maturation. Now with their follow-up film, The Strange Color Of Your Body’s Tears, Cattet and Forzani return to giallo, again creating a fragmented, impressionistic mood-piece that’s about the meaning of suspense movies, not about generating suspense. The Strange Color Of Your Body’s Tears feels less inspired than Amer. But would it seem that way if Amer never existed?
Klaus Tange stars in Strange Color as Dan, who spends a couple of days and nights roaming around his elaborate Belgian apartment building, trying to find his missing wife. As he pokes around, and answers questions from a nosy policeman, Dan discovers (or perhaps imagines) neighbors in peril and seductive women, and he hears anecdotes about weird sexual encounters. That’s it for plot—and even that takes some concentration to pick up, because Cattet and Forzani are more interested in the imagery and textures of giallo than they are in telling a rich, comprehensible story. If anything, they actively defy coherence through an editing style that cuts from shot to shot rapidly, with disorientingly mismatched compositions and an endurance-testing amount of repetition.
The approach Strange Color takes might be insufferable, if those “imagery and textures” Cattet and Forzani enjoy so much weren’t so damned beguiling. One of the first shots in the movie is of a gleaming blade brushing against a woman’s erect nipple, and for the next 100 minutes, Cattet and Forzani weave sex and gore into nearly every element of every scene. Floral wallpaper and head-wounds look vaginal. A lighting fixture resembles a breast. Squishy noises pop up on the soundtrack whenever the camera explores a hole in the wall. Two naked lovers press up against each other with shards of broken glass between them. A man reaches to remove the robe of a woman with prominent cleavage, and blinding light beams from beneath the cloth. The Strange Color Of Your Body’s Tears is like an anthology of aggressively provocative avant-garde short films, made by a couple equally enamored of Dario Argento and David Lynch.
The problem is that Cattet and Forzani have done this before—and with more focus. Strange Color gets at the voyeurism of giallo, and how investigating a mystery gives people license to peer into other people’s homes and lives. But the movie as a whole doesn’t say anything about male sexual desire and female sexual power that Amer didn’t already say. Also, this time out, the symbolism is almost laughably blunt. (The same was true of Amer, actually, but that movie seemed to have more of a knowing sense of humor.)
If The Strange Color Of Your Body’s Tears were Cattet and Forzani’s debut film, this might all feel fresher, and more revelatory. But as visually stunning as any given five minutes of this movie is, it doesn’t add up to much cumulatively. After a while, putting everything in quotation marks ceases to be a clever device, and starts to feel like an excuse to throw lurid pictures onto the screen. The real gialli—as exploitative as they can be—seem more honest, and are no less insightful about how exciting it can be to peek behind a forbidden door.