The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears begins with droning noise over production company credits. The industrial rumbling develops into a rhythmic swirl, vertiginously approximating a sense of falling. The opening shot sees a man asleep aboard a plane; the camera closes in on his fluttering eyelids as the frame begins to violently shake. The jet’s ambient hum is mixed as if suggesting a person entering a hypnagogic state – imagining what the outer limits of consciousness might ‘sound’ like – and the swirling hum’s abrupt stop is the cinematic equivalent to the hypnotist’s command: “And sleep!”
A border has been crossed. From here Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani take us on a mind-manifesting kaleidoscopic journey into a man’s desires, grudges, memories or psyche. All rooms lead to explanation: a primal scene from his boyhood. Coming on like the finale of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s La prisonnière (1968) wedded to Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), Cattet and Forzani’s puzzle is typically and reasonably understood as indebted to gialli, but underneath lies a film deeply influenced by the aesthetics of psychoanalysis seen in American’s Freudian thrillers and film noir. Our mind and memory are compartmentalised into rooms and if we can only open the right one, everything can be explained.
Strange Colour is marked by man’s uneasy fixation with women. One obvious touchstone is Otto Preminger’s Laura (1944), and its titular character, presumed dead. Laura’s portrait – which hangs in her apartment like some Edgar Allan Poe fetish object – captivates detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews), underlining the drama’s necrophilic subtext. Strange Colour references Preminger’s noir by also naming the enigmatic women of the film Laura and even features a portrait of a young woman (teasingly we never see her face, only her back, like a Hammershøi painting).
Strange Colour also feeds on the estrangement, male anxiety, and fear of women central to Freudian thrillers and dramas as Dan Christensen (Klaus Tange) projects his dreams and nightmares onto others (real and imaginary). In Dan’s dream, his missing Edwige is both a duplicitous destroyer like Phyllis Dietrichson in Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944) and Elizabeth Short – aka ‘The Black Dalia’ – the victim of an unsolved 1947 LA murder (her nickname a spin on George Marshall’s noir, The Blue Dahlia, 1943). The conflict within Dan captures the patriarchal dissonance of the mother-whore dichotomy – her agency, her desires, her ‘unknowability’ taken as a threat, because it means he isn’t the focus of her existence. On ‘discovering’ Edwige’s secret sexual peccadillos, Dan thinks she’s out to get him. It all amounts to the subconscious imagining, shaping and violent, forceful unleashing of the guy’s self-esteem issues and fear of humiliation. “My pleasure will be to make him suffer,” Edwige’s creepy voice springs from a tape recorder.
However above all, Fritz Lang’s noir Secret Beyond the Door (1946) appears as our proto The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears. They share tortured male protagonists searching for the answer to a repressed memory, hinged upon depictions of troubled minds as architectural spaces to wander. Lang’s psycho-drama sees Mark Lamphere, an emotionally disturbed magazine editor, struggling with murderous impulses against his new wife, Celia. Mark’s hang-ups provoke extreme emotions to arise: like Dan, they are rooted in a primal scene from childhood. The movies unfold largely in one location and feature multiple, ornate rooms symbolising psychoanalytic themes. Mark builds or imports rooms from 18th century rococo palaces and similar places where infamous murders have occurred – and one is an exact replica of deceased wife Helena’s bedroom (she died in what we are led to believe were mysterious circumstances, possibly at Mark’s hand).
If Mark’s repressed memory is symbolised by a room accessed via lock and key mechanism, Dan’s is much more violent to access. “There are old walls hidden behind new ones in this building,” says the phantom tenant Dan is chasing. It is a pivotal moment in the film, as Dan is then forced to dedicate himself further and further in journeying to ultimate revelation. If doors are mental barriers and rooms are memories, walls facades to smash down and access the deepest parts of the subconscious. In the films, architecture becomes a symbol of the stressed out male mind and the lengths they go to hide aspects of themselves, hide thoughts and memories that are unseemly or terrifying, but must be confronted.
Only when Dan and Mark pass through their secret doors (both marked with the number 7) are we privy to the causes of their individual neuroses. In Secret Beyond the Door, the childhood primal scene involved Mark being locked in a dark cupboard by older sister Caroline (Ann Revere). But in his fuzzy memory of the event, Mark believed it was his mother’s cruel doing, thus provoking a long-standing repressed rage aimed at women. For Dan, it involved a burgeoning inquisitiveness with the female form via a porn magazine and witnessing the ‘strange tears’ of menstrual blood snaking down (also) his older sister’s legs which the film has spent the last 95-minutes foreshadowing with an array of head wound imagery, thin gaps in walls and red lipstick stains on cotton wool.
As with Amer, Cattet and Forzani present the viewer with an oneiric narrative, one where crucial moments, shots and images resemble shards of stained glass, and the viewer is invited to pick up the pieces and put them back together. For their second feature, the pair pay homage to the Freudian noirs which would influence a string of gialli decades later. Strange Colour is a strikingly Cubist variation on the era’s forays into the psychoanalytic thriller, with Cattet and Forzani crafting a radical, delirious, and bravura work where Classic Hollywood meets giallo.