23-10-2017

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

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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.