In its perpetual staccato rhythm, and in its relentless nesting of symbols within symbols, The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears suggests a Matryoshka doll come to life. In the film, it’s not enough for a door to open once, it must open twice whenever a person walks into a room; mirrors, broken or not, cast more than just one reflection; walls, given their strange sense of permeability, are likened to human skin; and the buzzers outside an apartment building play pop songs, evoking the buttons on a jukebox. The story, if it can even be called that, follows a man, Dan Kristensen (Klaus Tange), looking for his missing wife, and it moves dissonantly and practically sans dialogue, as if it, too, were looking for something just beyond its reach. The threat of danger is pervasive, bloodletting a promise, but the identity of the conspirator of displeasure that Dan seeks ultimately matters less than the dream (or nightmare) logic that compulsively and propulsively informs the film’s imagery, and whether it’s rational enough to excuse this whatsit of being anything other than an empty exercise in style.
If Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani were musicians, their songs would consist of choruses repeated ad infinitum; if they wrote novels, their words would exist only to further rising actions; and if they’re sticks in the mud, as I suspect, they may deem the angles in Orson Welles’s oeuvre to be not canted enough. Throughout The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears, a relentless smorgasbord of twisted associations and graphic (mis)matches, the camera only catches fragments of people’s bodies, from every which way and almost always in close-up, and even less of their motivations. Characters rarely occupy the same frame and conversations are impossibly collaged, and as such a scene rarely goes by where it doesn’t seem possible that an eye can listen to an ear speak or a mouth can watch a nose scream. As in their first feature, Amer, the filmmakers clearly thrill in abstracting the landscape of the body and the ostentatious settings where their characters often roam, and the effect of the film suggests a world viewed through a kaleidoscope, or one envisioned during the throes of an acid trip.
As if Amer and Orgasm, Cattet and Forzani’s contribution to the horror anthology The ABCs of Death, weren’t evidence enough, this second feature-length fiction from the Belgian husband-and-wife duo confirms that their style is nothing if not shtick. Their color-coded nightmare worlds can be transfixing, but one can never fully shake the feeling that the sense of unease they rouse, every act of seduction, infiltration, and vengeance they orchestrate, is borrowed. Semioticians at heart, they don’t pay their respects to the giallo film’s dazzling convolutions of plot, only to its aesthetic vocabulary. Into their humorless pulp-o-matic they dump the colors of Suspiria, hints of Suzy Banyon’s search for the secret beyond the door, Goblin’s score from Deep Red, and every oneiric image Dario Argento orchestrated of a man and woman meeting their fate at the black, leather-gloved hand of some mystery pervert. In short, The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears is a distillation, a feature-length collage of this recut the filmmakers made of Argento’s canon.
A different kind of stick in the mud will point out that the film fails the Bechdel Test, though that’s intentionally by design. So often irritatingly and unproductively applied to determine a film’s gender bias, the metric is useful here in revealing how Cattet and Forzani’s films live or die by their point of view. Unusual for a film made in homage to a giallo, Amer was told from the vantage point of a woman who’s both victimized and empowered by the ever-leering gaze of the men around her. The film may absurdly reduce all men to sexual aggressors, but one doesn’t doubt that the woman’s desire to fuck or kill them is a product of her own sense of agency. Cattet and Forzani’s new film is less corrective, told as it is from the point of view of a man who, as he’s brought closer to the truth about his wife’s disappearance, must battle multiple versions of himself and face horrors that feel as if they’ve been filtered through a misogynistic sieve. The repeated image of a blade drawn across a nipple is instructive, as is the absurdly reductive punctuation mark that caps the film and elaborates on its title, which has the effect of making a work that’s already headache-inducing in its collision of subtext-blaring signs leave one with an aftertaste of insult.