A loud, visually assaultive assemblage of genre tropes as technically accomplished as it is difficult to watch, "The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears" has plenty to impress while simultaneously offering so little. The movie depicts the Kafkaesque experiences of a baffled man seemingly trapped in his eerie apartment building in the midst of a puzzling quest to find his missing wife. However, as with "Amer," directors Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani's previous ode to the viscerally intense language of Italian giallos, the plot mainly provides a backdrop for an unending collage of disturbing images and histrionic music cues. "Body" tears gets under skin so deep it bleeds.
After a black-and-white opening sequence depicts an erotically charged murder of a nude woman with unnerving stills of a knife dragged across her naked body, the movie immediately dives into the plight of Dan Kristensen (Klaus Tange) when he shows up at his home and can't find any lingering traces of his wife. When an elderly woman on a higher floor recounts the presence of a ghoulish force lurking in the walls of the building, Dan launches on a mission to unravel the mystery. Mainly, this provides an excuse for the filmmakers to run wild with over-the-top music cues straight out of the Sergio Leone playbook, stylistic devices like split screens and jarring close-ups, and violent showdowns that maintain a grotesque, bloody finality.
From the perspective of sheer cinematic determination, "Body Tears" has unquestionable merit. Cinematographer Manu Dacosse's images sustain the otherwise uninspired proceedings with a remarkable assemblage of deep blues and reds; virtually every shot features an inspired sense of mise-en-scene, including extreme close-ups of head wounds that take on a horrific sexual dimension and a routinely inventive use of mirrors. The directors are especially adroit when it comes to funneling poetic motifs into repulsive sequences, most notably with a slo-mo montage of glass breaking on naked bodies as they press together, but the ear-splitting screams come in at a close second.
It's a pointless endeavor to dismiss the movie's style-over-substance approach on its own terms -- Cattet and Forzani clearly worship that mentality. Yet it also intensifies the techniques at its center to such an alarming degree that it renders them useless, even going so far as to make the case for their laziness. Its elaborate design suggests a greater accomplishment than anything actually there.
As a frantic mind trip, "Body Tears" is physically oppressive to an alarming degree, but it amounts to little more than a provocation devoid of substance. Unlike last year's "Berberian Sound Studio," which began as a story about the production of a giallo before cleverly transforming into one, Cattet and Forzani show a penchant for foregrounding the language even as they lack much to say with it. The fragmented plot, as it were, certainly comes together in the end -- but that doesn't make it any less of a mess.
Criticwire grade: C+
HOW WILL IT PLAY? Next screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, "Body Tears" may attract the interest of an adventurous genre distributor, and its chief business prospects lie on VOD where fans of such outlandish stylized experiences may seek it out.