|A scene from in The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears.|
By John Esther
Dan Kristensen (Klaus Tange) has just returned to Brussels from a business trip abroad. After leaving several messages for his wife, Edwige (Ursula Bedena), without receiving response, Dan comes home to find the door is chained from the inside. When Edwige still does not answer Dan through the ajar door, Dan breaks the chain and enters his home.
Edwige is missing. Rather than immediately call the cops, Dan goes on a drinking binge and then rings up his neighbors to see if they have seen his wife. One of his neighbors lets him into her home. A strange woman whose face remains shadowed in darkness, Dora (Birgin Yew), relays a ghastly story about the day her husband went missing in the ceiling after he tied her up and sedated her. (She wakes up later to help him, somehow eschewing or forgetting or forgiving her husband's horrific behavior.)
After this bizarre encounter with the elderly lady in black, Dan's journey becomes increasingly strange -- while one's patience diminshes. People appear and disappear. There are displaced bodies in the forms of simulacra, split screens, broken glass and sliced flesh. Side stories are started and stopped. Snuff recordings are played over the phone. Nightmares repeat themselves. Carnage becomes fetish. Razors are the choice of weapon, but any piercing object will do. Law enforcement is ephemeral.
Oh, as The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears never lets us forget, the male gaze is at work. Eye see you. Does it want to see female flesh or blood or both? Well, it is certainly obvious what is more thrilling to the filmmakers; and they are not going to break down the patriarchal visual paradigm a la Marguerite Duras, Toril Moi, Toni Morrison, Jane Campion or Robert Altman.
Written and directed by the husband and wife team behind Amer, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, The Strange Color of Your Body's Eyes is intended (Italian artists audibly participate throughout) and advertised as a "homage to the Masters of Italian Giallo horror" -- an aspiration about as admirable as a novelist writing a homage to the novels of Danielle Steel or a cinephile's homage to pulp fiction -- and almost as reactionary and illogical in execution.
Stuck in a beautiful-turned-nightmarish Art Nouveau building where people hide and emerge from the walls and ceilings (are they ghosts?), the directors, plus the director of photographer, Manu Dacosse, are obsessed with the image at the risk of plot or sign, which in many cases displays a pornographic fear of female sexuality. As if reworking the work of George Bataille inside out or Jacques Lacan upside down, the Belgium filmmaking duo (whether they are familiar with those French authors or not) see sexuality not as an extension of one's self, but the murder of one's self -- metaphorically and literally. Continuity is obliterated in the name of discontinuity. Here, sex is horror without any redeeming pleasures. Man has vagina on the mind -- a bloody nightmare triggering subconscious memories of lost innocence. All because a little boy saw a trickle of blood. Menophobia. It also turns out that, indeed, some women do fantasize about being stalked, raped and murdered. Or is that Dan's dream? Golly gee, even Ingmar Bergman had a better sense of humor when it came to sex than this couple.
The film rarely maintains an image for more than a few seconds. Everything must be rapid, colorful and artsy, but it is an intellectual sham. At least Marquis de Sade and Jean Genet knew how to play both filthy and sensitive while simultaneously addressing violent sexual practices within and between the realms of power and the powerless. In The Strange Colors of Your Body's Tears, nothing enlightening goes beyond one of those "horror" films where a bunch of teenagers are stuck in the woods, getting killed off one by one because of the big, bad, old monster known as sex is after them.