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January 08, 2019

Let the Corpses Tan


Laissez bronzer les cadavres
Helene Cattet & Bruno Forzani - 2017
Kino Lorber BD Region A

One of the details I had forgotten about Let the Corpses Tan is that the robbers are wearing Frankenstein masks during the heist. More precisely, masks modeled after Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein monster. One might even describe the films of Cattet and Forzani as being similar to the Frankenstein monster as they are created from the eclectic parts of other movies as their sources of inspiration. As the Australian pair of film critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and historian John Edmond explain in the commentary track, what Cattet and Forzani do is not the same as the kind of cinematic quotations from Quentin Tarantino or Jean-Luc Godard. And the filmmakers themselves also allow for the viewer to create their own reading of their films, equally as valid as whatever Cattet and Forzani may have intended.

Unlike the previous two films, Let the Corpses Tan also has a literary source, the novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette and Jean-Pierre Bastid. While not (yet) translated to English, John Edmond has read the novel and makes some reference to it in both its use in the construction of the film's narrative, and how the filmmakers created visual equivalents to literary passages. For myself, prior to seeing Let the Corpses Tan theatrically last Fall, I read one of the few novels by Manchette in English, Fatale. The short novel is about a female assassin who decides to take some time off in a small, provincial French town. After getting to know who the most influential townspeople are, she sets off previously suppressed rivalries. The basic set-up appears to be inspired by the novel, Red Harvest, and its better known film offspring, Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars. So Cattet and Forzani, who make films inspired by genre filmmaking and the expectations that it brings have made a film from a writer who also plays with genre and its expectations.

The film opens with film shots matching gun shots through a painting. Heller-Nicholas mentions the stated influence of sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle, who created assemblages that were marked by gunshots. Saint Phalle's influence can also be seen in the use of the film's setting, a remote, crumbling monastery and cottage with bizarre assemblages inside and outside. The use of primary colors, first seen in the painting in the opening shots, and then used to create monochromatic images of the characters would echo the colors Saint Phalle uses in her work. Saint Phalle created a series of abstract sculptures called "Nanas", shaped like big, curvy women. Actress Elina Lowensohn plays the artist whose home is site of most of the film's action. But Lowensohn is also arguably presented as the film's Nana, allowed to be seen nude, proudly showing off a mature and fleshy body. Each photographic shot is framed and lit with such care that a casual observer would note the influence of abstract expressionism and action painting.

The visual aspects of Let the Corpses Tan are such that narrative concerns almost seem besides the point. The basic story of the robbery of some gold bars, the attempt to outwit the cops on the trail, and the robbers betrayal of each other, is familiar territory. Things get more complicated when unplanned for guests show up a the artist's home. Cattet and Forzani play with the narrative structure by showing what occurred during a specific time period from the viewpoint of different characters. Unlike the first two films that took place in urban settings, sunbaked Corsica, a bright combination of brown and yellow, dominates the daytime exteriors.

Some of the discussion of Let the Corpses Tan referring to Italian westerns for some context shortchanges the other films and filmmakers whose influence is worth noting. The opening with the extreme close-ups of eyes and lips will indeed make most viewers think of Sergio Leone, as would virtually any musical queue from Ennio Morricone, whether from a Leone film or not. Cattet and Forzani have mentioned Andrea Bianchi's Cry of a Prostitute as inspiring the move to a sunny, rural location. The repeated use of shooting someone by placing the barrel of the pistol in the mouth echoes Lucio Fulci's Contraband, although in one scene, instead of blood spurting out of the back of the victim's head, we see a spray of gold. Certainly, an advantage to having the new blu-ray is the ability to enjoy the film for its visual pleasures by removing the English language subtitles.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at January 8, 2019 08:18 AM