French Heist of Italian Stylized Genres is Anything but Golden.
DIRECTED BY HÉLÈNE CATTET, BRUNO FORZANI/FRENCH/2017
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: JANUARY 8, 2019/KINO LORBER
Insufferable in its unrelenting want of coolness, Let the Corpses Tan (Laissez bronzer les cadavres) does what it does almost exclusively via unsettling quick cuts and close-ups. More jacked up than amped up, this is unconventional crime by way of Sergio Leone with doses of Antonioni, Argento, and umpteen lesser-known others, is full of rugged bastards and innocent women caught up in a botched escape.
This not to say Let the Corpses Tan is worthless. The cast is never uninteresting, particularly Elina Löwensohn (Schindler’s List) as an aged bohemian artist/desert goddess-type. The actors, seemingly selected for their grizzled multitudes within and their abilities to sustain Leone-esque extreme close-up after extreme close-up. Still though, per the screenplay (based on the novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette & Jean-Pierre Bastid), the film lacks any compelling characters, despite harboring a raft-load of blunt-dull ones. In a surreal fever-dream Italian desert of some sort, it all goes down – in more ways than one.
…the broader truth is that Let the Corpses Tan owes the most to the worst and noisiest of Hollywood large scale tentpole blockbusters; the Michael Bay-style spectacles that are so desperate to please that they dare not dial down from full intensity for a second.
One could be forgiven for deducing that this film is what the term “stylistic exercise” was coined for. Though (warning!) like all exercise, over-excretion can be detrimental. Fatally over-tinkered, Let the Corpes Tan play as though writer/directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani spent too much time in the editing room, bored with their taut little movie. Out come the haphazard time-shifts, as well as the overuse of filters and effects- all of which appear to be unmodified button-clicks on the common prosumer grade Adobe Premiere “Video Effects” menu.
It’s obviously all in the interest of evoking the radical formalism of Sergio Leone in his prime (The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly), piled on and on and on. Leone was an artistic genius who utilized sharp close-ups, desolate vistas, evocative Morricone musical stings and bursts of soulless violence in forward-thinking ways. He was interested in shattering conventions via familiar tropes, not just riffing on his filmmaking idols. Let the Corpses Tan, is proof of de-evolution; the once-innovative formalism of the early spaghetti westerns distilled to “one damn thing after another”. Though not at all sloppy in its execution and assembly, it is hollow; ultimately not shattering anything other than patience.
Kino Lorber has released this vivid and colorful Blu-ray on the dusty heels of the film’s stateside theatrical tour. Audio commentators Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (a film critic) and John Edmond (Director of the Queenland Film Festival), clearly fans of this filmmaking duo, gush their way through their highly informative and lively bonus audio track. Along the way, they flag up the many specific filmmaking influences throughout, and discuss this film’s through line from guns to gold to “golden showers” and bondage- all of which this dreamlike movie features. It’s nice to have both male and female commentators to compliment (though in more ways than one) the male and female filmmaking duo responsible for this unrelenting hallucination.
As much, though, as filmmakers Cattet and Forzani would have us believe that they owe everything to Leone et al, or even Quentin Tarantino, the broader truth is that Let the Corpses Tan owes the most to the worst and noisiest of Hollywood large scale tentpole blockbusters; the Michael Bay-style spectacles that are so desperate to please that they dare not dial down from full intensity for a second. Though, like those films often do, this one has its gloriously unique moments (certain non-linear reveals are better than others; the hallucinatory vision of a woman getting her clothes completely machine gunned off delivers a decidedly female-centric take on sexualized violence), and yes, it is smarter, it all amounts to continuous noise; nothing but a tight string of only climaxes.
Cattet and Forzani have been celebrated for their two previous films, the far more giallo-inspired outings, Amer (2009) and The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (2013). Though a notable genre switch, Let the Corpses Tan is hopefully just adolescent-growing pains as this unique French creative duo work to expand their horizons into other wild Italian forms of cinema. Unfortunately this one, despite all of its forced sunbaked and oversaturated intellectualized badass-ery, remains a numbing barrage of bullets, golden glitter (don’t ask) and golden urine (really don’t ask). The story of thieves trying to outwit pursuers whilst hooded up in a desert art-making outpost may sound interesting, but as my wife harshly said of the film before bailing on it fifteen minutes in, “The only tension is coming from my eyeballs”.