Now That's What I Call Giallo: Ursula Bedena as Edwige.
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The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears: Giallo shots

Husband and wife duo Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani's have created a new giallo film with all the necessary beauty and depravity expected of the genre, but without the intelligence and terror of a classic.

The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears (18)
dirs: Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani

It can’t be an accident that whenever I order an ice cream in Italy, my brain offers the word giallo instead of gelato. The two are linked for me in a way that is more than phonetic. My reaction the first time I consumed a tiramisu cone, thick with slabs of cake protruding from the ice cream, was not dissimilar to how I felt after I first saw a horror movie by Dario Argento, whose work is the most widely seen of the ravishing and overblown giallo species. I was subtly nauseous but also purring with pleasure.

The British film-maker Peter Strickland reignited interest in the genre with his playful 2012 thriller Berberian Sound Studio. Strickland can be heard in The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears as one of the “special screams”, though I couldn’t say which – there are many to choose from, what with all the stabbings and slicings and blades plunging into the tops of heads and between thighs.

This is both a new giallo and a tribute to the genre. It succeeds in providing the necessary doses of beauty and depravity from its opening images of a knife grazing a woman’s nipple. Terror and intelligibility are in shorter supply.

Dan Kristensen (Klaus Tange) returns from a business trip to find his wife, Edwige (Ursula Bedena), missing from their apartment. He does what any of us would do: he puts Now That’s What I Call a Giallo Soundtrack on the turntable at eardrum-perforating volume and conducts door-to-door inquiries of his neighbours. A silver-haired woman tells him her husband also recently went missing. Cue a flashback to the night they were having sadomasochistic sex and she awoke from the sedative he had administered to find him drilling a hole in the ceiling – right into the head of the mural of a naked woman that was painted there. The next thing she knew, he was in the flat upstairs and calling down to her through the hole, asking for lit matches to be passed up to him in the dark. This she did, before a single drop of blood hit her face and she never saw him again. What I wouldn’t give to see that staged as a reconstruction on Crimewatch.

A woebegone detective turns up next. “I’m worried about my wife,” Dan tells him. “I worked for a man once who was worried for his wife,” the detective replies. Time for another long flashback, this one involving corsets being laced, thigh-length boots being unzipped and the use of three gaily coloured pendants as deadly weapons. “What has all that got to do with my wife?” Dan asks, not unreasonably, when it’s over. Some of us will have wondered the same thing.

Sensible viewers will relinquish early on in the film any hope of coherence. The frame is routinely carved up, with the screen divided into quarters or halves, so that the top of one person’s face is paired with the mouth of another. A lucid narrative was never going to be a priority for film-makers who can’t honour basic laws of composition. But the Belgian writing-directing team of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani (who happen to be married) invest so much in rhapsodic imagery and crunchy, delicious sound design that it’s possible to be swept along for a while by the film’s momentum and madness. They have a knack for a disquieting image. The black-and-white freeze-frame of a doll’s minuscule hand reaching towards a human throat many times its size is one I expect to be seeing again in my nightmares.

One danger for a film that is sensually stimulating but with no intellectual or suspenseful component is that audiences can’t get wrapped up in the on-screen mystery. There are answers, of sorts, to the questions of where Dan’s wife has gone and why there are human figures moving under the wallpaper. I knew I’d ceased caring, though, when Dan started wielding a sledgehammer in his flat and my only concern was whether that was a supporting wall he was about to knock down.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 09 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Anxiety nation

Another Man
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Harry Styles’ starring role in Another Man magazine proves he is the perfect teen idol

Nostalgic, androgynous and fresh – One Direction’s most famous face is as traditional a heartthrob as it gets. Music critics should know better than to write him off.

In As You Like It’s famous “seven ages of man” speech, Shakespeare splits the everyman’s life into seven parts. Three central, youthful ages stand out. The schoolboy, “with his satchel / And shining morning face, creeping like a snail / Unwillingly to school.” The lover, “sighing like a furnace, with a woeful ballad / Made to his mistress’ eyebrow”. And the soldier, “full of strange oaths,” with a patchy beard, brimming with ambition.

Today, an equally significant work made its way into the world – the most recent issue of Another Man magazine, which stars Harry Styles in three separate editorial shoots, as well as interviews between him and Paul McCartney and Chelsea Handler, and an essay on his youth written by his sister, Gemma Styles. In each shoot, Styles bears a resemblance with each of these three Shakespearean stages – in one, he sports a boyish bowl cut outside his old school, another casts him as a wistful, long-haired lover decked out in red, the third sees Styles with a new, short crop (done for the upcoming film Dunkirk, in which he plays a soldier), more masculine tailoring and barely-there facial hair.

The photoshoot marks something of a milestone in Styles’ career – something he seemed to confirm himself when he preceded sharing the magazine’s three covers on his Instagram feed with three blank posts (now, when you click on Styles’ Instagram page, there is a clear white line between his pre and post- Another Man pictures). This is his first interview and photoshoot since he left One Direction, and cut off all his hair for an acting role, and aside from the odd grainy fan picture or long-lens pap shot, fans have hardly had a glimpse of him since.

So, if this is a statement about a decisive moment in Styles’ trajectory, what does it actually say? Do the three different styles of shoot represent the ghosts of Harry’s past, present and future? Is his sheer versatility a way of presenting the former boyband star as a full-blown actor? In terms of the magazine’s written content, we don’t really discover anything about Styles we didn’t know before.

In his short phone interview with McCartney, Styles’ questions (“When you first went from being in a band to being on your own, what was the creative side of that like?” and “How did you find going from touring with so many people around you, to going out doing songs you’d written every word of?”) suggest he plans to write and perform solo music, and he briefly discusses his acting work with Chelsea Handler (“It’s a challenge, but it feels good to be out of my comfort zone”).

But the rest of the issue feels firmly nostalgic. Styles reiterates how much he loves returning home to Holmes Chapel (“that’s one of the places for me where I feel like I disappear the most […] I go back to Cheshire a lot and walk around the same fields”), the rush he had performing with his former bandmates (“there’s no drug you can take that gives you that same high”), while his sister reflects on his moments spent boiling pasta, playing with the family dog, and running baths for their mum. “It’s cool to have such specific moments in your mind to look back on,” Styles tells Handler.

The three shoots are nostalgic, too. This latest issue of Another Man follows one themed around Mick Jagger, the Rolling Stones and the “heirs to his throne”. As Styles is his most obvious successor (often compared to Mick Jagger in both looks and charisma), two of these shoots feel almost as though they were intended for that previous issue. Both the boyish, Sixties Beatles and Stones-inspired shoot – “Tomorrow is a Long Time”, shot by Alasdair McLellan – and the ragged rockstar story, “Anything That’s Part Of You”, shot by Willy Vanderperre – reference specific Jagger photographs and his general vibe.

On seeing the new covers, the Guardian proclaimed: “Harry Styles proves the heartthrob is dead: long live the artthrob”. It saw the shoots, with their high fashion aesthetic, and placement in a niche fashion magazine, as well as Styles’ ability to move from boyband star to actor to potentially authentic singer/songwriter as proof that the old concept of a heartthrob has died. The article says he is “not just a teen dream any more”, “revelling in a context that couldn’t be further from his One Direction past”, and adds: “To win hearts in 2016, you now have to offer artistic value. And you have to hustle.”

But what these visual callbacks to Jagger emphasise is that Styles is, in fact, a very traditional heartthrob – his very appeal may be due to the fact that he is the most traditional heartthrob we’ve had in years. Like McCartney, John Lennon, David Bowie, Jagger, Marc Bolan, or Kurt Cobain, Styles is creative, interested in fashion, androgynous, boyish and followed around the world by a stream of enthusiastic fans, who are mostly young women. And, perhaps in no small part due to that last detail, like all of them, he has been dismissed as a cheap fad by music writers who should probably know better.

In “Tradition and the Individual Talent”, TS Eliot said that a truly “traditional” writer is that which has “a sense of the timeless, as well as of the temporal, and of the timeless and of the temporal together”. This is also what makes that writer contemporary, and aware of his own specific moment in time. “No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists.”

If we apply that logic to the long list of teen idols, Harry Styles ticks all the boxes. Nostalgic, androgynous and fresh – Styles is as traditional as it gets. May he retain his place in the canon for centuries to come.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.