Victoria Abril and Labina Mitevska play two femmes dwelling in very different corners of Europe whose parallel stories converge in the mannered, contrived drama "The Woman Who Brushed Off Her Tears."

Victoria Abril and Labina Mitevska play two femmes dwelling in very different corners of Europe whose parallel stories converge in the mannered, contrived drama “The Woman Who Brushed Off Her Tears.” Writer-helmer Teona Strugar Mitsevska, co-star Labina’s sister, heavy-handedly compares and contrasts the lifestyles of an embittered Parisian and an oppressed but naturally plucky lass from the modernity-spurring Juruci people of rural Macedonia. Whimsical, magical-realist touches, such as a levitating Abril, fail to lift the pic free from its torpor, leaving distribs outside its co-producing nations unlikely to cry out for it.

Striking, confounding opening set in a Parisian apartment features what looks like Helena (Abril, once a muse of Pedro Almodovar, now curiously inexpressive) passionately kissing a young man named Noah (Dimitar Gjorgjievski), who starts to take things too far and tries to rape her before it’s revealed that he’s actually her son. Offering further evidence that this is one messed-up family, Noah confesses that his father, Emil (Jean Marie Galey), sexually abused him as a child, and then jumps off the balcony to his death right before Helena’s horrified eyes.

Meanwhile, in a mountainous Macedonian village, colorfully clad Ajsun (Labina Mitevska, from the helmer’s “I Am From Titov Veles”) lives with her patriarchal father, Ismail (Firdaus Nebi). Ajsun still pines for her lover, Lucian (Arben Bajraktaraj), who ran away after he knocked her up and Ismail threatened to kill him. In order to support their son, Ilkin (Kaeliok Fonenmum Varka, a cutie who spends most of the film hiding behind a Spider-Man mask), she sells homemade hooch, and tries to resist Ismail’s efforts to sell her off to a neighbor as a bride.

Back in Paris, Helena’s work as a parole officer brings her into contact with Lucian, and for opaque reasons only revealed later, she helps him skip bail and hides him in her own home. Skeptical about Emil’s protestations that he never molested Noah, and seemingly bent on divorcing him, Helena nevertheless insists he come with her on a hunting trip to Macedonia with Lucian in tow. Showing the intelligence of a bird agreeing to get a ride in a cat’s mouth, Emil agrees, paving the way for a credibility-stretching climax that will pull all the storylines together.

Helmer Mitsevska directs lenser to Matyas Erdely to either move the camera around a lot or plant it in front of the thesps for long, uncomfortable closeups; as a result, the pic feels perpetually stylized and off-center, although the Macedonian scenes seem more naturalistic and watchable, if only for anthropological interest alone. It doesn’t help that the palette is mostly one of sludge and sepulchral grays, apart from Ajsun’s peasant wardrobe of fiery reds and pinks, which none-too-subtly suggest her vibrancy and goodness. Apart from the scene in which Helena floats off the ground, there’s less whimsy here than in “Titov Veles,” but “Tears” still suffers from similar flaws.

Thesping is patchy, with Labina Mitevska faring better than Abril, and Gjorgjievski making a big impression before he’s killed off in the first scene.

The Woman Who Brushed Off Her Tears

Macedonia-Germany-Slovenia-Belgium

Production

A Sisters and Brother Mitevski, Ostlicht, Vertigo Emotionfilm, Entre Chien et Loup, Luminary Media production. (International sales: Urban Distribution, Paris.) Produced by Labina Mitsevska, Marcel Lenz, Guido Schwab, Danijel Hocevar, Sebastien Delloye, Diana Elbaum. Executive co-producer, Ana Jordanova. Directed, written by Teona Strugar Mitsevska.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Matyas Erdely; editor, Nicolas Gaster; production designer, Vuk Mitevski, Stephan von Tresckow; costume designer, Monika Lorber; sound (Dolby Digital), Paul Heymans, Fred Meert; supervising sound editor, Meert; re-recording mixer, Philippe Baudhuin. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama Special), Feb. 11, 2012. Running time: 104 MIN.

With

Victoria Abril, Labina Mitevska, Jean Marie Galey, Arben Bajraktaraj, Firdaus Nebi, Kaeliok Fonenmum Varka, Dimitar Gjorgjievski. (French, Macedonian, Turkish, English dialogue)

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