Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 13, 2014 3:45 am 
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More gorgeous glossy S&M from the Belgian couple

The Belgian couple Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani's 2009 Amer was a celebration of or stylized homage to Italian Dario Argento-style slasher-horror "giallo," and their new one, the 2013 The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears/L'étrange couleur des larmes de ton corps is more of the same, presented as a more coherent whole but also, if read carefully, maybe more offensive. This time instead of being divided into three parts that don't fit together very well, it's one continuous feature, except that again the narrative element is limited, and the material is very repetitive and often spins into the purely visual or sonar. Again this is an evocation of genre for cultists that's more lush visuals and sound than a regular film. The sound and visuals are gorgeous, with the problem that if you don't like buckets of blood and people (particularly nude women) being cut to pieces with long knives, you may find the content of the images increasingly off-putting, as time wears on.

This time rather than focusing on the weird Freudian childhood of a little girl, as Amer initially did, the film has more of a detective-story premise (and giallo, by the way, comes from a Mondadori series started in 1929 and generally refers to what is called "noir" or French "romans policiers," Seventies slasher movies being just an offshoot). Dan (Denmark’s Klaus Tange) comes back to his Brussels apartment expecting to see his wife Edwige (Ursula Bedena) ), but it turns out for some time she hasn't been answering his phone calls, and when he gets home, she is missing and the door is chained shut from the inside.

This is the time when, to add a real policier note, the police need to be called in, but that doesn't go very far, and Dan starts an investigation of his own. Dan and Edwige's place is in a small, unusually handsome apartment building, which we're later told consists of subdivisions of what was formerly a large single preivate residence. As Jay Weissberg says in his not at all admiring Variety review, what follows is as interesting for the "fabulous art-nouveau spaces" this building affords as for any narrative content, which is hard to follow at best anyway. We get an over-sexed old lady upstairs (Birgit Yew) whose husband disappeared through a hole in the ceiling. We get a raven-haired young woman in kinky red leather. We get a building manager with news of former occupants and of double walls and connections between all the apartments. And this time we get a lot more slashing and blood. And decapitations.

Visually, this largely being an experiment in imagery, as in Amer, we get pinwheels, lots of extreme closeups, particularly of eyes and mouths; split-screens, kaleidoscopic effects, keyholes, holes, wounds, Weissberg implies, standing in for predatory pudenda (which he finds offensive; women might too). Again it all combines to present murder and cruelty and S&M with the glossy glamor of a fashion shoot. Mike D'Angelo, who saw this at Toronto, explains in his personal Letterboxed review that he initially liked how each successive person Dan meets launches into "crazily stylized digressive interludes," but was disappointed that the filmmakers eventually settle into "their meaningless narrative." He is certainly right, judging by these two films, that Cattet and Forzani "can't do a sustained story" (in feature-film terms). Normal viewers watching this film uninterruptedly in a cinema find it becoming very, very long toward the end, its beauty of image and sound not enough to offset a parade of repetitiveness and gore whose pure exercise in style might disappoint Argento. It's too aesthetic to be truly scary. But Cattet and Forzani have a formidable technique to work with if they could abandon their cultism and move on to an actual narrative film.

The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears/L'étrange couleur des larmes de ton corps, 102 mins., debuted at Locarno 12 Aug. 2013 and showed at ten or twelve other international festivals including London and Toronto. It opened in French theaters 12 Mar. 2014 with a mediocre critical reception (Allociné press rating: 2.9). Screened for this review as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center-Museum of Modern Art joint series New Directors/New Films (as was Amer in 2010).A Strand Releasing release. At ND/NF it shows Fri. 28 Mar. 2014 9:00 pm at MoMA and Sun. 30 Mar. 1:15 pm at Lincoln Center.

Opens 29 August 2014 in New York at the IFC Center. Strand Releasing is the distributor.


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