Not all films are easy. Some filmmakers make you work at it to find the best way to appreciate their films. Others are best when you simply let the film envelope you, as you succumb to its artistry. However, there are particular films that can be appreciated when approached from very particular angles. Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS is not an easy film to watch, but it can be worth watching even if you do not want to do any work.
The directing duo’s follow-up to 2009’s breathtaking and sensual film AMER, THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS does have a story, though I hesitate to say that this directly contributes to the plot. The story of the film is that Dan (Klaus Tange) returns to his apartment after traveling and encounters a peculiar situation. His door has been locked from the inside, yet his wife has gone missing. There is no sign of struggle in the apartment. Even stranger, his wife’s belongings are still in the apartment. She has not contacted anyone to say where she is going, and she did not leave a note for her husband.
Though this description of the circumstances of the film does give a rough framework for the setting and character motivations, the film itself is not really concerned with plot. As someone who adores this film, I must urge you to leave your expectations for trajectory of the film by the wayside. Instead, I propose there are two non-traditional approaches to appreciating THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS.
Both modes of approaching this film require a reassessment of the structure of the film. Though the film tries to convince the audience that it is one cohesive narrative, it functions more like an anthology film. Anthology films are features that contain a series of shorter stand-alone films within their running time. Seeing the story of Dan and his missing wife as the wraparound story, uniting disjointed and visually disparate films under one loose narrative makes far more sense than trying to digest the film in one giant gulp. There are discrete segments within the film that are practically begging the audience to reset their gaze.
The film’s stories range from a flashback to a man being mysteriously trapped within the walls of his apartment building, to an erotic and intimidating exploration of the female form in black and white still photography. Each of these separate tales is visually striking and beautiful. Had they been released as individual short films they would have undoubtedly stood on their own, as they are only very roughly related to one another.
After realigning the understanding of the structure of the film, you can either choose to fight through the film’s nature in search for meaning, or you can accept that nothing in the film has any meaning. The battle of existentialism and nihilism has been waging for some time and both philosophies are valid here.
THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS can, on one level, be dissected for meaning in every little detail. The visual and audio design of the film is richly populated with different styles and gorgeous textures. With such attention to detail it can feel satisfying to get sucked in to analyzing the film and its references to everything from other films (most notable Italian giallo cinema) and art history (art nouveau and art deco are feature prominently). Each apartment in the building is lush with interior design and history, and given the meticulous nature of the filmmaking it is natural to want to piece together a greater network of symbolism throughout the film. Working with the film, rather than against it, to assess meaning is not easy, but can result in some fascinating associations to the world beyond this apartment building.
The exact opposite approach to the film would be to not search for any meaning in the film. Given the pairing of a nearly non-existent plot with the most exquisite film score and visual design, the film can also be seen as a wandering fever dream. Dan rambles from apartment to apartment, encountering neighbors and their accompanying sordid histories with little relation other than their proximity and his passing interest in finding his wife. By assuming that there is no greater message in the film nor any guiding patterns to be identified, the viewer is then left to explore the look and feel of the film without pressure. There is no anxiety or added weight of engaging with the text of the film, or fear of somehow missing a detail and failing as an observer. With this mode the film can be seen as a fun-house; a disconnected tour of random rooms and conditions.
In the end, any type of film can be deconstructed or appreciated in any number of ways. However, not every manner of spectatorship suits THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS, given the unique structure of the film. After seeing this film many times, going in for either all or nothing seems to bring about the most satisfying cinematic experience.