The Film: ★★★ The Score: ★★★★★
10th July saw the album launch of Blanck Mass’ freshly cut original score for Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s second passionate riff on the twisted pleasures of Italy's beloved horror sub-genre, Giallo. Though Cattet & Forzani's eccentric sex-horror ultimately falls short of satisfaction, the exceptionally tight score from Blanck Mass and his collaborators delivered sexy thrills with every beat at the 15th East End Film Festival.
L'étrange Couleur des Larmes de ton Corps (2013 - Belgium, France, Luxembourg) Written & directed by Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani / Starring Klaus Tange, Ursula Bedena, Jean-Michel Vovk / Cinematography by Manuel Dacosse / New Original Score by Blanck Mass & co. [Death Waltz Records] / Companies: Anonymes Filmes, Tobina Film, Epidemic
SCYBT premiered at Locarno in 2013 without an original score, borrowing tracks from classics of Giallo’s past. As a simultaneously luscious and aggravating assault on the senses it left most viewers clutching at straws, though cult status was certain to follow in the wake of the filmmakers’ vibrant stylisation of scenes involving beautiful brunettes wielding flashing blades! The film is luscious, hugely enjoyable, yet insubstantial and punishing. It is the sort that this reviewer is grateful to have witnessed on a big screen with an excellent sound system but might never have the wherewithal to watch again.
Amongst the film’s passionate followers is East End Film Festival director Alison Poltock, who enlisted Scotland-based producer and musician Benjamin Power (a.k.a.: Blanck Mass) to create a re-score the film for EEFF 2015. Rather than continue down the well-trodden path of performing a live score with the screening, Power chose instead to curate his score á la the game of Exquisite Corpse. Carefully selecting fellow musicians and sound designers from around the world (including Roll the Dice, Helm, Moon Gangs, Phil Julian, Konx-Om-Pax and Spencer Yeh) Power told each one of them which scenes they would compose for and gave no clues as to who might do the other scenes or what they would do for them. The resulting double LP saw its launch in the sparse, atmospheric basement of Shoreditch's Red Gallery, where the soundtrack was available in limited edition gatefold double coloured vinyl sets by retro soundtrack specialists Death Waltz Records. As mementos of the film, these glorious sets couldn’t be better suited to the textural obsessiveness of Cattet & Forzani’s vision. The moody, bass-y, evocative soundtrack, heavy on gut-feelings and impulsive manipulation, is the ultimate highlight of a film that delights in its sado-masochistic treatment of the audience by positioning innovation and sensation above emotional investment or conventions of any sort.
Following their well-received feature debut, Amer (2009 - another extreme-close-up filled love letter to Giallo) Cattet & Forzani's second feature dives into an art nouveaux fantasy, following beleaguered businessman Dan (Klaus Tange) as he searches his apartment building for an answer to his wife's disappearance. Visiting one resplendent apartment after another (and the foreboding spaces in between) Dan's quest brings him uncomfortably close to the fantasies, tragedies and dreams of his fellow tenants and the shifty detective investigating the disappearance (Jean-Michel Vovk). As the stories Dan hears bleed into theories, into rumours, into dreams Cattet & Forzani crank up the imagery, the close ups and the frequency of cuts (on and off screen). Before long the protagonist and the audience find themselves at the centre of a cacophonous insomniac odyssey that swings and spins like a rollercoaster winding through an ever more brutal and vulgar house of leather-clad horrors. Comparisons to the dizzying work of Gaspar Noé spring readily to mind and even receive partial acknowledgment before the film spirals so far down the rabbit hole that Irréversible's sequence in Le Rectum feels like a tea party by comparison.
Baffling, punishing and deliberately disorientating SCYBT never lacks for enticing, compelling imagery born of tremendous care, talent and innovation but fails to satisfy or frustrate as it becomes clear that emotional investment in Dan's journey is impossible. When decipherable imagery and interactions do appear in the childhood memories of Dan, the investigator and Dan's landlord (Sam Louwyck) it can barely elevate the quality of the narrative in any conventional sense. With reflection it becomes increasingly clear that Cattet & Forzani's narrative aims aspire to an intuitive style akin to that of James Joyce or the tone poems of Terrence Malick, though admittedly more lurid and shallow in their goals. Whether or not they succeed in reaching these heights of omni-sensory narrative is open to a discussion all of its own. To come to this film with anything other than adventurous curiosity is like pissing into the wind (though pissing is one kink that Cattet & Forzani mercifully leave in the bin of the inelegant). Cattet & Forzani don't exactly set out to throw the audience's expectations back in its face but they clearly care very little for any indignation that might flow from those who picked up the invitation to their grisly sleepover by mistake.
It's difficult for this reviewer (or any self-important cinephile, for that matter) to admit that they couldn't understand a film but it seems that what the filmmakers have to say about male sexual anxiety skirts awfully close to nothing. Male sexual anxiety is merely the prism through which the fetishes of the Giallo sub-genre might be amplified and made terrifying. Not that having something to say is a pre-requisite for any film but in the absence of any readable narrative at the heart of an avowedly nightmarish structure all that remains is the visceral experience. In this respect Cattet & Forzani and Blanck Mass and his co-conspirators deliver peerless intensity. Let loose in their own Alphonse Mucha inspired traum-novella Cattet & Forzani go to town on the viewer's senses. Split screens bisect opposing characters' faces, holding 50% of the action and 50% of the reaction in a single composition. The eyes of the characters and audience alike are pummelled and fractured by extreme close ups and in the brief moments of calm the decors are framed with such delirious affection that looking on them too long would likely induce a diabetic coma. Klaus Tange possesses a marvelously craggy and expressive face surrounding piercing blue eyes, which invite Cattet & Forzani's quick-cut, high impact close ups. Largely undefined from one plot line to the next (and of questionable relation to each other) the female cast is made up almost entirely of brunettes, inspiring fear and devotion as they alternately recoil from and brandish various daggers. Though nude flesh and hot glares dominate the screen, the aesthetic fetishism of the imagery centres on the seductive contrast between fine leather gloves and the predatory glint from a naked blade. From shows like The Avengers to the less family-friendly works of Dario Argento and Brian de Palma, the 1960s and 1970s saw numerous filmmakers exploit the pall of danger surrounding S&M and indulge their strange fascination with the partnership of cold steel and hot leather. Cattet & Forzani and their regular cinematographer Manuel Dacosse elevate this imagery to the level of high-budget commercial art - admirably so, given that none before them showed any sort of reverie for this staple of tawdry erotica. But in a film that is always, always up the frequent shocks, thrills and kills lose their impact amongst the mock-3D pictographics, smash cuts and ear-splitting hum of knife-edges ringing off of erect nipples.
Though this reviewer can't attest to having seen the film with it's original soundtrack it's difficult to imagine SCYBT being any stronger without the exceptional contribution of Blanck Mass et al. Using screeches, rumbles and vicious feedback loops along with lilting guitar riffs and ice-cool synths, Blanck Mass' crew built hugely immersive soundscapes across various scenes, all without the benefit of knowing each other's take on the material. The remarkable coherence of the final product is proof of the tonal unity of the film itself. So cogent and seamless are these pieces of music that Alison Poltock and Ben Power hardly needed to comment on the surprising coherence of the score before the screening. But who can blame them for praising the remarkable work on dispaly? The deep electronic tones and sonic manipulation draw terror from the shadows of the film's early sequences and lend an invigorating gallop to its quirkier stand-alone dream sequences and tall tales. The score never loses its dangerous sex appeal, even when battering the eardrums in the saline glow of the film's most brutal moments. The dense electronic compositions wear their retro affections very much on the sleeve but maintain a cutting edge tone in keeping with the advanced nature of Cattet & Forzani's neo-Giallo imagery. It's not entirely clear whether or not the participating musicians saw their respective scenes with the songs Cattet & Forzani had originally chosen for the film's release - songs which had at least partially inspired the filmmakers as they laid out the progression of certain vulgar, magic-box-like scenarios. Hints of Ennio Morricone, Nico Fidenco, Giuseppe de Luca and Riz Ortilani can be dug out of the new score but it is a sonic beast grown in a new environment with only a respectful fidelity to the past. Fans of classic Giallo scores can check Death Waltz Records' catalog for loving reissues of Giallo soundtracks like Killer Nun (1978) and Absurd (1981).
Presenting the score in pre-edited synchronisation with the movie, Blanck Mass opted for precision over live energy and a powerful professional sound system certainly preserves the firepower inherent in a live gig without distracting from the film itself. Blanck Mass' re-score has the chops to stand alone as a remarkable LP in its own right but benefits on screen in particular from its resemblance to a passionate labour of love from a talented fan. In truth what Blanck Mass has created seems more akin to the achievement of Cattet & Forzani: extremely well-trained and professional talents chose to play in a nasty little sandbox, riddled with broken glass, and found themselves exploding the limitations therein.