Dir: Helene Cattet & Bruno Forzani. Belgium. France. Luxembourg. 2013.

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This is a cult film and as such is an acquired taste. Here, the style is high art and the plot as mad as a bag of frogs, unfathomable and the journey of the central character deeply internal, and unenviable. When you find out that your missing wife wanted 'to find the secrets inside her body' and don't find it odd - you are a character in a Dario Argento film, or thereabouts on the art house cult film spectrum. But this delight has drawn from more than the cult film canon without it really showing to the uninitiated.  The opening credits are Gasper Noe as is the bold brave delivery of message; De Palmer and Brunel are here in the use of imagery and some of the more psychedelic mad sequences are straight out of Jacob's Ladder - the film that gave us Tim Robbins.
The score incidentally is simply and sublimely superb. We are used to the Tarrantino or Scorsese approach to matching content to music, but these guys have chosen, mostly Enno Morricone,  a genius in film scoring.

The duo responsible for this treat of the senses are the very same who brought us Amer - the strict three act structured homage film to Tenebrae the infamous Giallo classic made so by its inclusion on the list of 1980s 'video nasties.' Amer' was well received by those who love this kind of thing, but was though problematic: it had no dialogue whatsoever, relaying the journey and tensions of the central character via a sequence of collated images which worked for the first act (which was an act of great tension inducing loveliness and promise) but couldn't be maintained. At best the film was considered intriguing or fascinating by learned critics - but outside of the homage canon, it just didn't cut the mustard.

The length of time spent on the construction of 'Strange' shows: there is also a lot drawn from Polanski in particular with the confines of a big attractive house and its kooky residents resembling 'The Tenant' one of the best of Roman's work. The Old Mad Woman in the Attic mythology is done to a fine turn in the guise of a laced and dark silhouette of a woman of mystery. The mystery here is key to the way the film works - Giallo films loan from cheap detective fiction and clunky plot, here the mystery is within the house, the past life of the house, the yearnings of the tenants, the sexual frustrations of the men who investigate the women in the house with imagery and references to magic and puzzles thrown in for extra sumptuousness.  Delightful, but again, it helps if the viewer knows their stuff.

Not for the squeamish and certainly better with repeated viewing, this better trip into the dark  recesses of sexual psychology and its painful power is as compelling as it is odd. It is as well that the viewer knows the art house backstory of its predecessors as this has been created by two very film literate beings that love the genre it has derived from.  The inanimate as spooked is derived from J-Horror and the appreciation of the house as manifest evil is Amityville and The Shining. The name of the missing woman is 'Laura' the name of a great and good film noir with Vincent Price where, again, the missing wench is the source of all the trouble - especially for the main man Dan, here played with tortured conviction by Klaus Tange.  The main males are interchangabe in looks and motive: the past tenant with a beard, the landlord, the detective and Dan himself could all be the same sexually frustrated bloke keen to learn the secrets of female sexuality, that just so happen to be embedded in the walls of a deeply interesting house.

The cinematography follows the themes perfectly with the notion constantly that there is a viewer watching Dan from above - one particular sequence when he is just tidying up a space around his couch is given the artistic flair normally associated with a scene of greater significance, but this isn't at all wasted. The sound FX are great but can grate, especially the nagging buzzer on the front door of Dan's flat, no doubt from someone, or something wanting to come in.

'Strange' does though lack the essential elements of Berbarian Sound Studio another Giallo homage film of recent times where the main male lead (played beautifully well by Toby Jones) has a life and a backstory that help discern the odd and nasty in the mind of the protagonist, with Dan this is not the case. His consistent reassurance of his work in telecommunications is not backed up with any experience of normalcy as shown to the viewer and this is a mistake. The comparison the real life and the life of the house we are not given and this is a flaw, but not sufficient to detract from the overall artistic merit of the piece.

Gail Spencer

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