Night Visions 2013: The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears, We Are What We Are, Big Bad Wolves
Posted on Saturday November 9, 2013, 18:40 by Owen Williams in Under The Radar
My favourite film of the festival was The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears, the second "arthouse giallo" (after 2009's Amer) from the writing/directing partnership of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani. When I left the screening I felt almost battered by it, but its been in my head ever since. A heady and surreal experience, it's a difficult film to describe, but on its most basic level involves the nightmarish psychological journey of a man (Klaus Tange) searching for his wife, who has disappeared from their Parisian apartment, which was locked from the inside. If that sounds like any sort of conventional locked room mystery, I'm not doing it justice.
The structure for a while has flashbacks to the stories of more disappearances in the same opulently decayed building running alongside Tange's current investigations. So we get the woman upstairs, dressed in black lace, sitting in deep shadow, her face always obscured, relating how her husband developed an obsession with sounds from above and then vanished into the ceiling, followed by similarly bizarre tales from other residents that suggest the building is the key to the mystery. But that template itself dissipates as Tange's own case progresses, descending into mad sensory onslaught. It's very loud - though the music is fantastic throughout - and very fond of extreme close-ups, particularly of eyes and of vaginal-looking headwounds.
It's borderline pretentious (maybe not even borderline) and in some ways an exhausting watch. It's also not perhaps the "nothing like you've ever seen" that some of its advance publicity trumpets. The Italian cinema beloved of its creators is obviously a touchstone, and it can't help but feel something like last year's Berberian Sound Studio. If you wanted a lazy soundbite, you could call it an insanely Lynchian People Under the Stairs, and I also found it akin to the work of The Brothers Quay, particularly in its jagged black and white sequences. But if it isn't unique, it is completely fascinating and seductive. I can't even say I entirely kept up with it this first time around. A single viewing isn't enough and I'll be paying those apartments a revisit.
One I missed at FrightFest so was glad to catch in Helsinki was We Are What We Are, Jim Mickle's remake of Jorge Michel Grau's Somos lo que hay. This brings us back to the cannibal stylings of a previous Night Visions blog, but among its flesh eating siblings, Mickle's film sports quite the most sober and elegant threads. Whether it's better than the original is debatable. It's just different. Grau's film is a more chaotic, gonzo, unpredictable affair, set in the mean streets of Mexico and much concerned with its family's darkly farcical attempts to procure fresh meat. Mickle's version flips all the gender roles, meaning we now have a more obvious bad-guy widower father and two daughters, rather than the original's more flappable widowed mother and sons. The switch to a backwoods American family with a weird secret religion also makes Mickle's film feel more familiar (a bit along the recent lines of The Butcher Brothers' The Hamiltons or Chad Crawford Kinkle's Jug Face), but its additions of flashbacks to a pioneer trail origin story, and of an unending deluge revealing secrets left buried for decades, are clever and well-played.
It's less violent and shrill than Grau's film, and more atmospheric, with beautiful rain-soaked cinematography by Ryan Samul. The cast is great too, from Bill Sage and Julia Garner (who were both in the excellent Electrick Children), to Amber Chylders, Michael Parks and Kelly McGillis (making her second appearance for Mickle following Stake Land, and her third indie horror in as many years after that and Ti West's The Inkeepers). Sage's descent into generic lumbering dad-villain towards the end is a shame though.
And continuing the shit-I-missed-at-Frightfest theme, here's Big Bad Wolves, the much-lauded Israeli torture comedy from Rabies directors Navot Papoushado and Aharon Keshales. An odd one, this. I didn't hate it, but I'm not quite feeling the love either. The film revolves around a suspected child killer (Rotem Keinan), who's initially subject to a violent off-the-books police interrogation but then freed, only to be re-captured in an uneasy freelance alliance of a maverick cop (Lior Ashkenazi) and the father of one of the victims (Tzahi Grad). The plan is to torture him using his own gruesome - alleged - methods, until he confesses, but for Grad it's about revenge as well as justice: Keinan isn't going to survive this in any circumstance.
The comedy comes from the hapless ineptitude of the torturers, and of the constant mundane domestic interruptions which come to a head when Grad's father (Dov Glickman) pays an impromptu visit. All of which is worth a few chuckles. What I found frustrating were some plot points around Keinan's character, who we know from very early on is actually guilty. There's no is-he-or-isn't-he tension, but we also don't know how everyone is on to him or what their evidence is. The film begins with his "questioning" in a warehouse before heading to Grad's basement, with Keinan protesting his innocence the entire time in defiance of some particularly gnarly grilling. But he never says, "What is your evidence? Why do you think I did this?" Maybe it's irrelevant, but I wanted to know. There's also no sense of a ticking clock, since Grad's daughter is already dead. The film seems to realise this towards the end with the addition of a new potential victim, but as a narrative hook it comes way too late.
Clearly there's another agenda here, with Glickman's military background and the ethnic site of the basement action all pointing at a microcosmic satire on Israel's political and historical sense of itself. On that level you can explain away the apparently wonky writing as part of the parable's general self-inflicted madness. Logic isn't really the point of the operation. Fair enough, but I'm not convinced Big Bad Wolves' teeth are as sharp as advertised.