Saturday, March 29, 2014

ND/NF ’14: The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears

Sometimes you have to wonder if Fifty Shades helped normalize some downright dangerous behavior. This is one of those times. Sex and violence are intimately linked in Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani’s latest Benelux giallo pastiche, but it is not clear whether this is intended to horrify or titillate the audience. Fasten your restraints, because The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (trailer here) will be a heck of a bumpy ride for most viewers when it screens during this year’s New Directors/New Films, co-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA.

Dan Kristensen is in for it. Returning from a business trip, he finds his creepy Brussels flat is chained from the inside, but his wife Edwige is missing. When the cops finally show up, he has roused all his neighbors and heard a rather unhelpful story from the old lady in number seven, explaining how her presumably late husband also disappeared under similarly murky circumstances. Naturally, the flatfoot suspects Kristensen, especially when he subsequently wakes up in bed, next to her severed head.

So, Tears would be downright plotty compared to the Grand Guignol memory play, Amer, Cattet and Forzani’s previous valentine to the giallo genre, if it were not for their myriad excesses. Repetitive cycles are a really big deal for them, but it is hard to feel much suspense or dread when the same crummy things keep happening to Kristensen, with only mild variations that make matters progressively worse for the poor slob each time.

There is no question the filmmaking couple has quite the eye for composition and cinematographer Manu Dacosse gives it all a lushly lurid look. Even though they are not original, the musical hat-tips also set quite the mood. However, their constant jump cuts, violent expressionistic interludes, and is-this-a-dream game-playing hobble the film’s pacing, narrative cohesion, and basic sense of flow.

Frankly, despite all the stylistic madness going on around him, Klaus Tange still gives an admirably presentable performance as Kristensen. Nonetheless, it is production designer Julia Irribarria’s team that takes the honors, creating a truly creepy, yet luxuriant backdrop, like the Belgian (or pseudo-Italian) equivalent of the Dakota in Rosemary’s Baby. With its marble floors, gold paneling, and Mucha-esque screens (much like the awesome one-sheet), it might just be worth losing the occasional spouse to live there.

On a technical level, Tears is quite polished. Cattet and Forzani accomplish everything they set out to do, but the resulting film is deathly static. Masterful visuals are all very nice, but they cannot compensate for ill-defined characters and muddled plot points. Instead of a sensationalistic indulgence, it becomes a rather taxing chore to watch. Recommended for fans of the Maria Beatty fetish films John Zorn scored, The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears screens again tomorrow (3/30) at the Walter Reade, as the 2014 edition of ND/NF comes to a close.