The sequence when Barbara explodes on the glass body is like the flashback in The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh. It’s a scene that really struck me and we tried to magnify it – not redo it because there’s no point, but to be inspired by it as if we were dreaming it a different way. And there’s also a note on the bunch of flowers, and it’s the note that Edwige Fenech receives in the film. Sergio Martino’s films are always about vice, fantasy and sado-masochism, so it fit the subject matter perfectly.
– Bruno Forzani1
Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani have never hidden the fact that The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (L’étrange couleur des larmes de ton corps, 2013) owes a great debt to the films of Sergio Martino and his influence on the giallo genre. In the 2014 interview with Virginie Sélavy cited above, Forzani makes this influence explicit. In the same interview the filmmakers reject the term “homage” with Forzani suggesting that they “reinterpret and re-use the giallo language” in order to tell their own story, while Cattet elaborates that she views the use of giallo iconography as a tool for subversion.
With its emphasis on soundtrack, editing, set design and visceral violence, in The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, Cattet and Forzani employ giallo iconography, using it as pure cinema, with which to create their own distinctive language. The result is highly abstract, with an emphasis on sensory assault rather than dramatic logic, which also acts as a catalogue packed full of visual and musical nods to Italian directors such as Dario Argento, Umberto Lenzi and Giulio Berruti. By far the greatest number are to Sergio Martino: from the film’s title – “Strange” recalling The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh (1971), and “Colour” echoing his satanic-infused giallo All the Colors of the Dark (1972) – to the widespread use of Martino’s signature motifs such a close-ups of eyes, the use of repetition to represent the subconscious, and his interest in transgressive female desire and sexual sadism; as well as directly lifting scenes or lines of dialogue from his films and the Bruno Nicolai end credit theme for All the Colors of the Dark.
However, the end result is the diametric opposite of Martino’s work: Cattet and Forzani reject making a commercially viable mainstream work; conversely Martino embraced this kind of filmmaking – he’s an Italian Roger Corman working across a number of popular genres with gialli only comprising an influential few. But there is a cosmic connection there, somewhere. Martino wasn’t without his own subversions when it came to giallo. Like Cattet and Forzani, he reintepreteted specific conventions which, through this re-rendering, belonged to him and him alone.
Martino has enjoyed a fifty-year career in the Italian film and television industry. As writer, then production manager, he cut his teeth working with the likes of Mario Bava (The Whip and the Body, 1963) and Umberto Lenzi (So Sweet… So Perverse, 1969), before directing his own films; often produced by his brother Luciano’s company Dania Films. During the early seventies, the golden age of the Italian giallo cycle, Martino made four gialli, three starring Edwidge Fenech. Strange Colour makes a direct reference to this key Martino actor; the main character Dan’s missing wife also sharing a name with Edwidge. Martino’s gialli The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh, All the Colors of the Dark, and Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972) all centre on female protagonists and have an emphasis on female sexuality.
Martino’s gialli The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh, All the Colors of the Dark, and Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972) all centre on female protagonists and have an emphasis on female sexuality. It is here that Cattet and Forzani magnify and subvert Martino. We learn that The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears’ Edwige has been killed because she has been on some sort of journey into dark sexual experimentation. Julie Wardh, in The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh, also has a complicated sexual persona, which unravels when her ex-lover Jean (Ivan Rassimov) arrives on the scene. She is haunted by flashbacks to the S&M games she used to play with him – one of which involves Jean smashing glass over Julie’s naked body. Cattet and Forzani magnify this imagery of the extended repetition of glass breaking, as well as showing the shards penetrate the skin over and over. But now it is the male protagonist who submits to the violence, from a female dominatrix, which directly contrasts with Martino’s vision.
Martino’s inquiry into transgression continued with the use of oneiric surrealism in his satanic giallo All the Colors of the Dark. Fenech’s protagonist Jane Harrison is a traumatised woman whose psyche is slowly unravelling. Like Jane Wardh, she also has a complicated sexual persona, but the film goes further than just flashbacks this time, instead granting her full psychic visions which are highlighted in the narrative by trippy dream sequences. Again, this is combined with more subtle elements such as repetition and experimental editing techniques, which Cattet and Forzani once again mirror and magnify.
Sergio Martino wanted to test the possibilities offered by the giallo, rejecting a number of its previously held conventions throughout his work. Similarly, the gialli of Cattet and Forzani are all about rejecting – rather than merely replicating – convention. Although the respective works of Martino and Cattet and Forzani are separated by decades and countries, and throwing visual similarities aside, it is here, in this spirit of subversion, to which the Belgian filmmaking duo owe their biggest debt to Martino. Magnified or not, some of the duo’s strangest colours are inspired by Sergio Martino.
- Virginie Sélavy, “Interview with Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani”, Electric Sheep, 10 April 2014 www.electricsheepmagazine.co.uk/features/2014/04/10/interview-with-helene-cattet-and-bruno-forzani/. ↩