Screened at the 2018 Melbourne International Film Festival.
French writing/directing team HÃ©lÃ¨ne Cattet and Bruno Forzani follow up their acclaimed neo-gialli Amer and The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears with a third feature, Let the Corpses Tan (Laissez Bronzer Les Cadavres). It’s a stylish and bloody crime noir that also takes influence from Italian cinema – this time in the form of spaghetti western and classic Italian ‘poliziottesco’ crime films.
A criminal gang, led by Rhino (StÃ©phane Ferrara), uses local artist Luce’s (Elina LÃ¶wensohn) remote residence as a cover to undertake an early morning gold heist on a coastal road outside an unnamed town. Returning to their hilltop hideaway, with a couple of hitchhikers in tow, the gang plans to lie low until the furore around the robbery has died down. Unfortunately, two local motorcycle cops call in on a routine check and the situation quickly devolves, resulting in a bloody stand off as both cops and criminals find themselves under siege.
The heist is a jittery set piece of brutal simplicity, and the getaway an anxious thrill ride along the tight, winding coastline. It’s an uncomfortable journey, as we sit amongst oblivious passengers, speedometers in the red zone, concealed blades and shifty glances. But it’s all carried off with a confidence and style that sets the tone for what is to follow.
The sun-bleached hideout, with its crumbling buildings and beady eyed criminal duplicity, could have fallen straight out of any classic Leone western, and the setting provides a warren of tight corners and sudden open spaces. Perfect for ambushes and intense gunfire. Perched on a coastal hilltop, the stunning Corsican scenery lingers in the background. The natural beauty sits in stark contrast to the dark deeds happening within it. The searing daylight and pitch-black shadows evoke the oppressive summer weather. You feel sweaty just watching it.
In a similar vein to how Nicholas Winding Refn approached Drive, Cattet and Forzani have taken a gloriously pulp plotline and applied their unique vision to it, producing a striking combination of genre crime and art movie. Corpses is at once a complete sleazy delight and total joy for the eyeballs. The artistic flourishes manifest memorably in the use of molten gold replacing blood in one particular scene, and an intriguing ant motif throughout the movie.
Sinking fully into the genre, Let the Corpses Tan immerses itself in blood, guns and nudity, with double crosses galore and a thumping soundtrack ““ the sort of action/music matching Tarantino adores and Scorsese perfects. This is violence and horror scored into the back of your mind via association with a cracking tune.
But it does not stop with the soundtrack. The sound design is conspicuous because of its inventiveness, rather than as an unwanted intrusion, and it’s key to Corpses‘ storytelling. As with both previous features, every sonic element is precisely modulated and presented with a specific intent. Queue lots of creaking leather jackets, heavy breathing and thunderously enhanced weaponry. In an illuminating post-screening Q&A this writer was privileged to witness, Cattet and Forzani revealed the movie was conceived and scripted with the sound elements completely planned, and recorded entirely in post-production ““ a feat that took approximately 6 months to achieve. It meant there was no room for improvisation on set, but the shoot was conducted with absolute precision.
On to the performances, which are roundly excellent. The cast is a bit of an ensemble with pretty much everyone getting a chance enjoy the violence. But the standouts must be StÃ©phane Ferrara’s controlled menace as Rhino, and Elina LÃ¶wensohn’s scorching artist, Luce, who hates cops just as much as the gang does.
Let the Corpses Tan is an exciting, stylish heist movie that fans of both crime cinema and artier fare will enjoy. The action staples are all present and on point, and combine with some lurid visuals, exceptional sound design and an arresting artistic sensibility to make it an absolute must-see.