1 Hr., 32 Mins.
Let the Corpses Tan April 4, 2019
hree films in, the husband-and-wife filmmaking team Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani continue making it difficult for their viewers to decide if their films are visual pastiches and little else, or something more. Their feature-length debut and its follow-up, Amer (2009) and The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2014), respectively, looked and felt an awful lot like the giallo thrillers of the 1970s. Their newest movie, 2017’s Let the
Corpses Tan, is indebted to the low-budget crime movies and Westerns that flourished internationally in the 1960s.
What makes Cattet and Forzani hard to categorize and truly understand is how they go about paying tribute. When we think of an out-and-out homage, we might think of something like Far From Heaven (2002), which immaculately reproduced the aesthetics of a 1950s melodrama, or The Artist (2011), that giddy recreation of the silent movie. Cattet and Forzani’s mimicry, by contrast, is purely superficial — their works lack coherent narratives. They use the music from a great many of the films from which they take inspiration — like Ennio Morricone’s score from Who Saw Her Die? (1972), which memorably pops up in Let the Corpses Tan — and use a lot of the same camera techniques. You can expect a plethora of close-ups, jump cuts, split screens, and more.
But that’s about it. Cattet and Forzani so much ascribe to the style-over-substance mantra that their films feel more like moving, cinematically informed paintings than they do movies. This can be troublesome. It is one thing to watch a short that merely works as a stylistic exercise — the dedication to the sensory doesn’t get the opportunity to grow tiresome because of a tight running time. But Cattet and Forzani, who almost exclusively made short movies before getting the opportunity to see their feature-length dreams come true, are daring. They see what might happen when you expand material and visual ideas that might be better suited for a vignette than for a 90-plus minute movie.
I haven’t seen The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, which was unenthusiastically reviewed for the most part. But I have seen Amer, which, though thrilling for its first half in part because of its intoxicating style, left me cold: It was all splendiferous presentation without anything to attach to. It was clear to me that Cattet and Forzani were consummate visualists, and I appreciated watching a movie where a director’s touch was more omniscient than usual. But high style only does not a great movie make.
To my surprise, Let the Corpses Tan might be the movie that convinces me that the co-filmmakers can be masterful in certain contexts. Though the narrative is, as expected, murky, barely skirting nonsensicality — it’s about thieves who hide out at the home of a woman who is wrapped up in a love triangle, which builds and builds until we get to what is mainly a movie-length shootout — it is concrete enough to keep the spirituous visual sensibility fastened. Imbued in the film is a clearer sense of purpose; optic flourishes are far more complementary, and if not supplementary, to the "storyline." (In Amer, the plot conversely serviced the photography and composition.)
Part of me would like to describe some of the ocular tricks. But explaining them might make the movie sound silly, or, at the very worst, pretentious. Watch the film, though, and almost everything about it — even the most absurd of its visuals and symbols — makes sense. What can be said, I suppose, is that the film takes place on the Mediterranean Island of Corsica, that much of it takes place outside, and Cattet and Forzani deliciously conjoin the sensuality of sun-soaked nature to the violence and sex that bubbles up between the characters. All with a twist reminiscent of, as mentioned before, classic Westerns and seedy crime movies. We go to the movies to get lost, essentially. It’s fitting, then, that we’re not only immersed in the world Cattet and Forzani create, but that we also can hardly make sense of it, which manages to uphold appealing mystery. It is quite an experience. A-