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“Let the Corpses Tan” review – a bizarre ode to Spaghetti Westerns

FIPRESCI Warsaw Critics Project 2017 2017-10-23


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.


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FIPRESCI Young Critics Warsaw Project

Călin Boto is a Romanian emergent film critic and the editor-in-chief of Film Menu, a film magazine edited by students of the Film University in National University of Film and Drama in Bucharest (UNATC). He has written articles for several cultural publications such as Dilema Veche,Dissolved Magazine, SUB25 and he coordinates Film Menu’s weekly cineclub. At the moment he’s working on a bachelor's degree on the films and film criticism of Jonas Mekas.

Barbara Majsa was born and raised in Hungary, but currently resides in Sweden and attends Stockholm University for Cinema Studies. She has worked as a journalist since 2009, and has covered several film festivals. Barbara is the managing editor at Cinema Scandinavia, where she interviews film-makers and focuses her work on artistic and cultural products that reflect upon society - films concerning social, societal, economic and political issues.

Yulia Kuzischina is a film journalist, based in Moscow. She studied visual culture at Higher School of Economics and later started to write for two film-related websites, RussoRosso and Kinomania.ru. Currently she also works at a film sales company Ant!pode Sales & Distribution. Her main field of interest is Eastern European cinema.

Tomáš Hudák  is a programmer and a film critic based in Bratislava, Slovakia. Programming at independent cultural centre A4 – Space for contemporary culture, which focus on challenging and experimental art, is his main occupation throughout a year. He is also associated with IFF Cinematik in Pieštany, Bratislava IFF, and Film Festival 4 Elements in Banská Štiavnica. Regularly writing for film magazine Kinečko, his texts also appeared in other publications such as Senses of Cinema, Tess Magazine etc. In past, he worked as a film archivist at Slovak Film Institute and his archival research resulted in two papers on local film history.

Daria Badior is a film critic and a Culture Editor of LB.ua, one of Ukraine’s biggest online newspapers. Focuses on writing about contemporary Ukrainian cinema. Also she co-curates a project on LB.ua named Short-list about young Ukrainian filmmakers. Since 2017 takes part
in selecting films for Kyiv Film Critics Week, a new film festival held at the end of October. A member of FIPRESCI.

Łukasz Mańkowski Half of the Asian Cinema focused blog ‘Referat Filmowy’, Japanese Studies and Film Theory graduate from Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, specializing in Asian Film. Occasionally photographer, translator and theatre-film journalist who simply loves ramen. Previously member of 5 Flavours Film Festival People’s Jury, FEFF Udine Student Campus and EIFF Student Critics Competition.

TUTORS of FIPRESCI Young Critics Warsaw Project

Yoana Pavlova is a Bulgarian writer, researcher, and programmer currently based in Paris.Her field of work includes cinema, VR, digital culture, and the New East. She is the foundingeditor of Festivalists.com (a playform for experimental media criticism), with bylines fornumerous print and online publications in Bulgarian, English, and French. Contributor to thefollowing books: Cinemas of Paris (2016, St Andrews Film Studies), Eastern Promises (2014,Festival Internacional de Cine de Donostia – San Sebastián), The Bulgarian Nouvelle Vague(2012, Edno).

Tommaso Tocci is based in Italy, where he works as a film critic and translator covering filmfestivals across Europe for international publications. He has also worked for BerlinaleTalents and for the Edinburgh International Film Festival, and he currently serves as Co-Programmer for the Saas-Fee Film Festival in Switzerland.