When Dan Kristensen (Klaus Tange) returns to his apartment, he finds the door locked from the inside. After a forced entry, he discovers his wife has vanished. His search for answers within the apartment complex draws him into a nightmarish scenario that will have him questioning his own sanity.
Once again Bruno Forzani and Hélène Cattet deliver a sensorial experience, sucking you into an audiovisual trip inhabited by things nightmares are made of. ‘L’Étrange Couleur Des Larmes De Ton Corps’ is much along the lines of their debut, ‘Amer’ (2009), but far more complex and shows a more serious attempt at multi-layered storytelling. Do bear in mind that this remains abstract film making with a high level of artistry, so with regards to the actual (fragmented) storyline, you might very well still be scratching your head at the end of the film. Just like ‘Amer’, ‘L’Étrange Couleur Des Larmes De Ton Corps’ bridges the gap between experimental films and narrative features, so in that light it is a continuation of the style and themes its directors have become known for.
Now, is this a Giallo film? This time, I’d say yes, much more than ‘Amer’ ever was or intended to be. In this case, it’s a Giallo du Nord, as in: it was conceived, written, produced and shot in Northern Europe (Belgium, to be specific). The visual references are obvious, but on a narrative level the film also incorporates more recognizable plot devices that substantially define the genre. There’s an unknown, black-gloved killer at work, naturally, adding the murder mystery in which the central character gets entangled. The psycho-sexual nature of events are explored in a deeper fashion this time around. And even a childhood trauma is thrown in the mix. These are some of the evident characteristics.
Underneath the surface, the seasoned viewer will spot many more references to the Giallo genre. The film’s title on its own already, is a glorious tip of the hat to the best and most ludicrous the genre in its heyday had to offer… ‘Lo Strano Colore Delle Lacrime Del Tuo Corpo’… now doesn’t that sound marvelous? But the title translated into any language sure is mouthful, and a pain in the neck for any reviewer. So for the remainder of this review, I’ll be taking the liberty to refer to the film as ‘Lichaamstranen’, which is simply the Dutch/Flemish word for ‘Body’s Tears’. And if you should be interested in the literal Dutch translation of the complete titel, it’s ‘De Vreemde Kleur Van Je Lichaamstranen’. There, you learn something new every day.
With two films referencing ’70s Italian genre films on their resumé now, ‘Lichaamstranen’ raises expectations of violence, bloodshed and nudity. And yes, there is an equal fair amount of all at display here. But the way it is conceived and protrayed in this film, exceeds the directors’ previous output and might on some occasions even rival anything put on film before in general genre/art cinema. I’m talking in terms of how it’s being visualized and executed. Rarely in genre films violence and nudity has any artistic merits, but in the work of Bruno and Hélène it always does. One particular ‘slashing’ scene is of such visceral intensity while at the same time thoughtfully choreographed, that the editing and sound effects together with the images make it look more like an artistic sequence of balletic bloodletting rather than a scene of mere sanguine splattering. A disturbing, macabre ballet of sound and images, if you will. In terms of the violent nature and contrary to what some ’70s Giallo brethren films are infamous for, ‘Lichaamstranen’ avoids being labeled misogynistic by applying an equal amount of stylized torture on both genders. Same goes for the portrayal of both male and female nudity. A balance perhaps easily explained by the fact that the film’s creators are a man and a woman?
Those of you who have seen the duo’s previous films, know to expect a film unlike the ones we’re used to in mainstream cinema. ‘Lichaamstranen’ is a natural progression and a step up from ‘Amer’. We see a directing duo both fine-tuning and expanding their particular brand of film making, while also descending deeper into their self-created universe; a place where they seem comfortable to dwell and conjure up matters of madness, excruciating enchantments and seductive slicings. And this universe has gotten more perplexing, claustrophobic, frightening and fascinating with their second full length outing.
The one thing that struck me during the film – a notion that virtually no other film I’ve ever seen has managed to evoke in me – is that watching ‘Lichaamstranen’ feels a lot like listening to a music album (from start to finish, by whichever one of your favorite artists of choice). It’s the cinematic equivalent of an elaborately composed musical piece and the emotions and reactions it stirs up, felt similar. Therefore, I’d prefer to look at ‘Lichaamstranen’ as a composition rather than an actual film. One that is meticulously crafted, both on a visual and auditive level (the sound design was impressively layed out throughout the film and even dominates certain scenes).
Bruno and Hélène once again opted to use excerpts of an existing score for their second film. While the songs themselves are enticing and work well with the on-screen action (though one song fragment’s effect does misfire after over-use near the end), this way of applying music is also my main source of complaint. I’d like to see them actually work with a composer for their next film, to produce an entirely new, preferably more coherent score to support the visuals. This, of course, will mean extra time, work and money, but I for one will be eager to see and hear the results of such a collaboration.
There are elements, whether it be visuals, mise-en-scène choices or plot aspects that might seem influenced by or at least have you reminiscing other films. One scene involving an intercom device clearly displays some Lynchian trickery. The level of psychological terror at hand feels very much in sync with the type of huis clos horror that Roman Polanski explored in his Apartment Trilogy. One plot development, revealed later on in the film, has a concept that has been used previously in various incarnations by a wide variety of film makers, such as Guillem Morales, Wes Craven and Dario Argento (if you’re familiar with their filmography, you’ll know which of their films to pinpoint after Bruno and Hélène play out their card-spin on it in the third act). Also, art nouveau architecture plays an important part in the sylization of the film and to such an extent also emphasizes and supports the labyrinth-like narrative of the plot. Now, having recently seen Peter Greenaway‘s ‘The Belly Of An Architect’ for the first time, there were moments in ‘Lichaamstranen’ that took me back to Greenaway‘s critically acclaimed film, in the way some scenes where framed and staged.
Surely, I’m using these references as a compliment to the talents of our film making duo. It’s irrelevant as to where they get their influences or which ideas might have been lifted from elsewhere. What matters, is how Bruno and Hélène process their influences, translate them to their own cinematic language and project them back to us, the audience. And the result has been nothing short of unique and visionary so far. Now, you don’t have to like this film, and without a doubt there will be people who don’t. But it can’t be denied that ‘Lichaamstranen’ is an accomplishment on its own, both on a (co-)productional and artistic level. The film has a peculiar (international) cast, but they all seem in place in this setting. However, if you’re looking for characters displaying a wide range of emotions that you can empathize with or the kind that are well developed, you’ll have to look elsewhere. The script simply didn’t call for that. I wouldn’t necessarily call that a flaw, considering what all else the film has to offer. The editing of Bernard Beets, a previous collaborator on ‘Amer’, is also remarkable, with its various use of split screens and slow motion shots. On a sidenote, the use of multiple languages in the spares dialogues seems surreal at times (not to mention from a productional standpoint: convenient), but on the other hand provides the only tangible link to reality for viewers who are familiar with the place where all this was filmed (Brussels).
On a final note, one could claim the film suffers from repetition. And in a way, it does. But just like any classical composition or song from contemporary music uses the repetition of certain themes, verses, choruses and bridges, so does ‘Lichaamstranen’ as a film. It’s just a matter of how you look at it, and if you’d like to let it get on your nerves or not. Now, there might be critics who will object to this kind of cinema, and if their ponderings would lead to the question: Will Bruno and Hélène ever be able to make a “normal” film? My answer would be: You think they need to?
Trailer on YouTube.
A Gilles Vranckx poster: