Let the Corpses Tan (2017), the third feature by Belgian duo Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani, is the perfect example of a midnight movie – it’s bloody, stylish and eccentric. And it puts a new spin on a classic pulp story. Even though most of the time one might not understand the characters’ motivations and may find it difficult to follow the plot, this frenzied film will certainly never bore you.
Influenced by Spaghetti Westerns, Cattet and Forzani deliberately create pastiche, detailed and comprehensive yet undoubtedly auteurist. They pay homage to the genre by borrowing its plots and stylistic elements while also deconstructing cinema language to its purest and most thrilling form for cinema that communicates through visual expression rather than words.
In the hierarchy of Let the Corpses Tan, the narrative is clearly a second string, although there’s a lot going on. A gang of thieves steals 250 kilos of gold and plan to hide their treasure in a deserted village near the Mediterranean sea where a bohemian artist lives with her lover, who is caught in a love triangle. Unfortunately, a few unexpected guests mess things up, two police officers arrive and a crazy shootout begins. Although the plot, which is based on a novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette and Jean-Pierre Bastid, might sound familiar, there’s no shame in admitting that trying to understand who is who in this messy story can be quite difficult.
It’s obvious that the directors want us to feel lost or at least confused, which is why the puzzling plot is overshadowed by visual expression that is even more chaotic. It wouldn’t be too much to say that Let the Corpses Tan uses almost all cinematic techniques one could think of: close-ups, zoom-ins, flashbacks, fast cutting, cross cutting, and more. While some of the stylistic elements clearly quote the genre (for example, the repetitive close-ups of the eyes look very Western-like), the vibrant, busy visuals together with peculiarly detailed sound design first and foremost bombard viewers’ senses, creating a cinematic experience as intense and sometimes – let’s be honest – as garish as possible.
However, it’s not only the hyper-stylization that makes Let the Corpses Tan so powerful – the images created by the directors and cinematographer Manuel Dacosse play an equally important part. The most visually striking scene of the film reinterprets religious iconography. Here a naked woman, covered in golden dust, is crucified and whipped by men. She is still in charge, we are sure about that (after all, she is a goddess of some sort), yet she serves as a prisoner of lust. As in their most famous film Amer (2009), the directors combine sexual desire and violence, pleasure and death, and provoke their viewers’ impulses in a rather unconventional way.
Some might argue that Let the Corpses Tan is a cold genre experiment and not a film with heart and soul. And they might be right. But if it’s an experiment, it’s an exciting and bold one. With impressive ammunition of cinematic tools and barely any dialogue, the directors manage not only to recreate the atmosphere of long-forgotten European B movies, but also to remind us how daring today’s cinema can be.
Roderick Warich’s debut feature 2557 is a Thailand-set genre hybrid, combining dreamlike sequences with a thriller ambience. At the 33rd Warsaw Film Festival, where the film screened in the International Competition, the director spoke to us about inventing one’s own style and searching for truth.
Monika Gimbutaitė: How did you come to set 2557 in Thailand?
Roderick Warich: There are a couple of reasons why it’s set in Asia. I grew up watching Honk Kong movies so I was very interested in that environment. And Thailand is still a very rural society. Rice is the main export there, but at the same time they have Bangkok, which seems like a city from Blade Runner’s set – it has this sci-fi atmosphere, at least for Europeans. This rural culture is also very much connected to Buddhism that’s influenced by ghost culture. Thailand is kind of in the past and in the future at the same time.
How did you develop the script?
There wasn’t a script per se, only an outline. I had blocks of narrative that I pushed around. But I was more interested in portraying experiences, trying to catch something that’s not scripted and not narrative-based.
I wanted to see a westerner drowning in a pool that is surrounded by poor people. The idea of capitalist culture that is also patriarchal, the idea of guys going to Thailand to pay girls to have sex with them really disgusted me. And that’s where I started. But if you look closer, you can see that most of the characters from the other culture are also losers. Eventually you start to lose hatred and begin to look at the system with a certain coldness.
The film changes its tone quite a few times – from drama to thriller, and from thriller to a more meditative journey.
I wanted to do something non-narrative for people who wouldn’t normally watch similar stuff to, or sit twelve hours through, a Lav Diaz film, but who still might get something out of its meditative side. Also, the film is supposed to feel like electronic music. I was talking a lot about Arca, the electronic music producer, whose music changes all the time as if it was a creature. I wanted to see if I could do something similar in my film.
There are two things that interest me in cinema: the dream-like quality and something that feels very much in the moment. That’s why the film jumps between the narrator – you can just sit with her in the streets of Bangkok and be there – and going into a dream state. At the same time, we had the idea of turning time into steam. That’s why I chose the ambient soundtrack, that’s how this dream state felt to me.
How did you approach working with a non-professional cast?
I can’t say what made me choose them, they just have that something. Actors, on the other hand, are like empty vessels, they try to fill themselves with their characters. Robert Bresson wrote that there is a certain truth that you may capture in a non-actor, the truth that you can never capture in a professional actor. And I believe that.
The way the camera is positioned most of the time sets a frame of tension. In certain scenes I just let the actors ramble for hours and tried to find something that felt real, in other scenes I was following their tempo. And sometimes they really didn’t know what was going on.
And in many scenes we can’t hear the dialogue.
I’m not a verbal person and I don’t really believe in words. I believe that the atmosphere itself creates truth and the words are just noise. Human communication is noise [laughs].