Thursday, 26 March 2020

Let The Corpses Tan

Pin Tan Alley

Let The Corpses Tan
(aka Laissez bronzer les cadavres)

France/Belgium 2017
Directed by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani
Kino Lorber  Blu Ray Zone A

I’ve waited too long to order a US edition of Let The Corpses Tan. I wasn’t able to get to go to the London Film Festival screening of this a few years ago but, since I assumed that a new film by husband and wife team Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani is akin in audience excitement to waiting for another Star Wars movie in the 1970s, I just figured it would get some kind of hugely marketed cinema release over here. Nope... not even a DVD or Blu Ray, let alone a nationwide cinematic release.

I’m further puzzled about this after viewing it because, like their other two feature films... Amer (reviewed by me here) and The Strange Colour Of Your Body’s Tears (reviewed here)... this one is an absolute masterpiece of the art of film. No quibbling here, it’s a work of two genius directors at the absolute top of their game. Which, frankly, is what I’d expect from these two even on their worst day.

The film is based on a novel I’ve not read by Jean-Patrick Manchette and Jean-Pierre Bastid and I’m assuming the simplistic story of a gold bar heist gone wrong when various parties, including the police, turn up at the gang’s ‘safe house’ a little after the robbery shown here was picked deliberately by the two auteur directors so they can layer it and infuse with their own artistic vision. The film then becomes one long gunfight referencing flashbacks/forwards (depending on your point of view I suppose), divided loyalties, art mixed with light BDSM elements and the usual potent and heady concoction of brightly lit, gialloesque visual syntax filtered through a surrealistic prism... which is not surprising when these two filmmakers are at the helm. This is what cinema is all about and, right from the opening moments through to the last shot, it’s just one brilliant sequence after another pushed forcibly through your retinas and gouging through your cerebral cortex like an unstoppable freight train.

The cast are fascinating too, with Stéphane Ferrara playing a typical ‘hard but fair’ gang leader and a brilliant turn from the always watchable Elina Löwensohn, who I haven’t seen in a movie for a while and who plays against type here as some kind of artist/dominatrix/masochist called Madame Luce, who owns the property in which the gang are holed up. Big shout out to whoever the person playing the often naked and younger ‘dream flashback’ of her too... she’s especially good tied to a cross and when she’s wearing a different hat well... she certainly puts the ‘gold’ into golden showers, quite literally as the directors seem to have a fetish for imagery involving gold powdered paint, wet gold paint and also as a stand in at one moment for... yeah, I think I’ve waded into that one enough here but I now, having seen the film, am more aware of just what is going on with the Blu Ray and DVD cover, that’s for sure.

A simple story is good, of course because, if you know the work of these two splendid film-makers, you’ll know that every single moment is magnified and expanded in terms of visual exploration and, asides from the immensely controlled frame designs and meticulous camera movement combined with rapid fire, percussive editing in places, there is also an element of the canvass which is about splitting up layers of time and presenting it with deviations from linearity including repeat moments from different points of view which might well perplex viewers if a more complex plot line was also involved. Like a Godard movie, the form and passage of the media telling the tale is as important... actually probably more important... than the story itself and the film calls attention to that constantly.

And there’s some really great stuff in this one, with a few of my personal favourites of sheer celluloid* delight highlighted here to whet your appetite.

Some great stuff where characters are shooting holes through Madame Luce’s latest canvass painting and we see those three characters, each taking up one of the blank holes from a view behind the canvass. This scene concludes (after cutting around to other strands and places) with Luce burning a hole on the canvass with one of her cigars as we cut to the reverse shot of the cigar coming through the back of the canvass as a big circle which then transitions to the circle of an egg cooking and then to the rather hard to decode circle of the moon with ants crawling all over it. It’s only much later in the film it is made apparent to the audience that this is a mirror on the ground reflecting the moon.

One sequence which really made me sit up is of Löwensohn and Ferrari both seated at opposite ends of a long table. A guy is sitting with his back to us in silhouette in the centre of the table and the reason for this is to make the mechanics of the next series of shots possible. So we have Löwensohn and her half of the table left of screen. She says something and the camera rushes over to Ferrari screen right... and so on back and forth to each other. However, each time the camera gets to the other person, they have zoomed in much closer to the foreground of the shot. By the time only half of Löwensohn’s face in profile is in shot, we finally get a shot where the next cut brings both of their faces in close up facing each other from each side of the screen, completely mocking the length of the table we have seen in the earlier shots. For a few seconds I was at a loss to know how they managed to zoom in so accurately on each person as the camera whizzed along until I realised I was watching a travelling matte shot each time, with the silhouette of the guy sitting in the centre of the table used as a mask to transition each section of the two shots being used for each camera movement. I think this is the only time I’ve seen this done but please let me know in the comments section if there are any other movies where this happens.

I also love how some of the action at the start goes into posterised, single colour washes of various characters (each with heir own different colour) like an old 1960s spaghetti western opening title sequence, before going into their own title sequence in a similar style. The needle drop style soundtrack features various iconic, found and reused score cuts by the likes of Morricone, Cipriani and Fidencio etc... as is these directors’ usual MO. This, of course, helps greatly to propel the nostalgic element of the opening titles. It's a little like one of the trailers for Mario Bava's Bay of Blood (aka Twitch Of The Death Nerve) in that respect.

Other delights include the cutting away of a foot kickstarting a motorcycle to edit out the journey by following up with the foot coming off the motorcycle which is now in a different location, a stealth dream sequence where one character is riddled with machine gun hits but instead of killing her they merely obliterate her clothing until she is naked and a beautiful piece of sound design where one of the characters drugs herself and time rewinds for her back to before the start of the film but, when she returns to normal time, the musical soundtrack is playing backwards for those scenes.

Actually, like their previous film, the two directors do tend to chop around with the audience’s perception of time, often referencing the same scene from different perspectives before jumping back before and then after it. Their genius comes from the fact that they do this while still maintaining a through line of coherency to the order of the shots which won’t confuse most people watching (although they do deliberately wrong foot the viewer’s perception on occasion).

All this and a Boris Karloff latex mask like the kinds they used to sell in the 1970s and we have a film which is both referential to the past while absolutely uncovering new territory in terms of advancing what I shouldn’t probably call ‘a narrative’ but will anyway, for the purposes of this review. There are some truly surprising moments and Let The Corpses Tan is, again like Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s previous features, something that I could watch over and over without getting bored for a long time. Absolutely marvellous piece of heavily stylised and beautiful cinema that completely elevates the art form and pushes at its boundaries while simultaneously being completely entertaining. It doesn’t get much better than this.

*Yeah, I know. Watched it by digital means but if celluloid is a term we can still use nostalgically to symbolise the media of cinematic joy then it certainly beings to these two directors.

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