With ‘Amer’ and ‘The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears’ (plus an abundance of style and brave creative choices), French directing duo Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani have established themselves as masters of the “giallo” genre, a particular style of 70s-style murder mystery thriller-film that usually blends the atmosphere and suspense of thriller fiction with elements of horror fiction (such as slasher violence) and eroticism. In their latest film, ‘Let the Corpses Tan’, they’ve poured some spaghetti western into the mix - and the results are delightful.
The film involves a gang of thieves - the taciturn, cigar-puffing ringleader Rhino (Stéphane Ferrara); a portly, hairy-torsoed baldie (Bernie Bonvoisin) and a young guy (Pierre Nisse) - who snatch a big pile of gold during a bloody armoured truck heist sequence on a seaside mountain road (seemingly a tribute to Jean Pierre Melville's ‘The Second Breath’).
The gang members arrange to rendezvous at the sprawling coastal home of Luce (Elina Löwensohn, ‘The Girl Without Hands’, 'Nadja'), an artist who is caught in a love triangle between a washed-up novelist named Max Bernier (Marc Barbé) and a seedy lawyer (Michelangelo Marchese). Max’s young wife (Dorylia Calmel), their young son and their maid (Marine Sainsily) have paid a visit too. When two police officers stumble upon the location, the scenario quickly escalates into an operatically violent day-long gunfight between police, the robbers and the group of innocent people caught in the middle.
The film is based on the novel ‘Laissez bronzer les cadavres’ by Jean-Pierre Bastid and Jean-Patrick Manchette, whose stories were usually violent explorations of the human condition and French society. The novel marked the kick-off of the movement Manchette himself later on called the "neo-polar," a radical departure in crime fiction from the formulaic French cops-and-robbers novels of the 1950s and 60s. Here, Manchette used the crime thriller as a springboard for social criticism.
Manchette’s work has been adapted for film before (‘The Prone Gunman’ was filmed under the title ‘The Gunman’, starring Sean Penn, a few years ago and it sucked) but never to such delirious effect as with ‘Let the Corpses Tan’.
This is Cattet and Forzani’s most accessible film, one that gradually ditches its narrative for a straight-up shootout with surreal undertones, like Damiano Damiani’s ‘A Bullet for the General’ meets Jodorowsky-lite. The closest comparison would probably be Ben Wheatley’s ‘Free Fire’, another film about multiple double-crosses occurring during one epic accidental gunfight. However, ‘Let the Corpses Tan’ surpasses Wheatley’s effort thanks to its lush visuals and hallucinatory craziness.
Vivid colors and bizarre camera angles (close-ups of gun barrels, bullet holes, cigar-burned holes in canvases), dizzying pans and flamboyant tracking shots, disorienting framing and composition … it’s a true assault on the senses.
Shooting on Super 16mm film is cinematographer Manu Dacosse, who shot François Ozon’s ‘Double Lover’ and Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s suberb horror film, ‘Evolution’. Dacosse's cinematography rivals that of Sergio Leone’s director of photography, Tonino Delli Colli, in terms of its grit and sweaty close-ups. Almost every scene is filmed in a way that feels fresh and is treated like a feverish, experimental short film designed to get the general gist of plot details across, but, much more importantly, utterly enraptures its audience with shockingly gorgeous cinematography, and mind-bending editing and sound design.
The lighting and cinematography mix quick cuts, extreme close-ups, hyper-realised sounds, stylised colour choices, and the occasional dream to connect scenes. Vivid colours and bizarre camera angles (tons of close-ups of gun barrels and bullet holes), dizzying pans and flamboyant tracking shots, disorienting framing and composition… it’s a true assault on the senses. A character attempting to escape with the loot doesn't just get shot, he’s beautifully splattered with liquid gold while getting shot. It’s hyper-stylisation in the best possible way.
The passage of time is presented in a liquid fashion, too. Intertitles provide precise countdowns of the action, but when the film’s inciting violent incident occurs, the action starts flitting backwards and forwards around a particular moment. The audience is never quite sure who is where at any given time, or who is shooting at whom. It’s some of the best editing you will see.
A series of exotic and brilliantly constructed images with a (mostly) coherent narrative, ‘Let The Corpses Tan’ is the cinematic equivalent of gorging on a big box of mixed chocolates: totally overwhelming, but guiltily pleasurable until the box is empty.