One of the great pleasures of seeing THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS, the new tripped-out giallo homage from filmmakers Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, is telling people that you’re going to see THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS. “Are you doing anything around ten?” I asked a coworker on Friday afternoon. “Want to see THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS?” The confused silence, as he attempted to piece together that cumbersome string of words, was everything I hoped it would be. Like the film itself, the title is wonderfully obtuse and willfully opaque, simultaneously evocative and nonsensical. Yet, on purely fundamental terms, it is also fairly descriptive of the film’s content: much of the onscreen happenings can be boiled down to colors, bodies, and the inherent strangeness of both.
The story, such as it is, concerns a businessman named Dan who returns from a trip to discover his wife missing from their apartment – despite the fact that it has been locked from the inside. Dan immediately begins a thorough investigation, which largely consists of drinking heavily and accosting his neighbors for information on the disappearance. Among the few who will talk to him are an old woman whose husband vanished under even more peculiar circumstances and an understandably skeptical police investigator. Dan discovers his wife’s audio diary, which seems to implicate a mysterious fellow tenant named Laura, but the details of Laura’s identity only obfuscate things further. As Dan tumbles further down the rabbit hole, his already tenuous relationship with reality deteriorates to the point that one can no longer be sure how much of the story is happening inside his head.
If that synopsis seems vague (or inaccurate, depending on whether you’ve seen the movie), it’s because THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS is less concerned with telling a story than expressing one, through striking visuals, unnerving sound design, and non-continuous edits. Entire scenes are shot entirely through extreme close-ups of characters’ eyes, mouths, and throats (occasionally mixed and matched via splitscreen), and heartbeats and breath are woven into a deeply ominous soundscape. The result is that each microgesture becomes amplified to near-operatic proportions; one of the most dramatic jump-scares is simply a shot of the tendons in a woman’s neck contracting into a scream. The filmmakers have clearly learned from the best, with explicit visual nods to master stylists including De Palma, Lynch, Roeg, Hitchcock, and Kubrick. The biggest influence, however, is Dario Argento, whose use of creeping terror, blaring music, and deeply saturated, non-diegetic color informs nearly every scene. Like last year’s BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO, THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS plays like a love letter to Argento’s lysergic brand of giallo, and nails his sense of magical dread.
Also like Argento, however, THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS never gets around to making a whole lot of sense. This will undoubtedly prove trying for viewers accustomed to more straightforward narratives, and even more adventurous audiences may find themselves frustrated by some of the lengthier sequences. Towards the end, certain shots are repeated ad nauseum, complete with the same dialog and musical cues, eventually making for exhausting viewing. The film could certainly stand to be a good ten minutes shorter; indeed, it might even be able to do so without losing any unique shots.
Nevertheless, THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS is a singular experience for lovers of inventive genre cinema. Specifically, it’s an experience that should ideally be had in a movie theater, where the dizzying colors and intense soundtrack (expertly compiled of ‘70s Italian soundtrack maestros like Ennio Morricone and Riz Ortolani) can be fully absorbed; fortunately, if you missed it, the Coolidge will be hosting a pair of midnight screenings early next month. Plus, when your friends ask what you did over the weekend, you can casually inform them that you saw the strange color of their bodies’ tears.
THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS (2013) dir. Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani [102 min]
Played 9/19-9/21, Brattle Theatre (40 Brattle St, Cambridge, MA 02138)
Also plays 10/3-10/4 at Coolidge Corner Theatre (290 Harvard St, Brookline, MA 02446)