Let the Corpses Tan (Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, 2017)
The plans of a gang of tough guy thieves hiding out with stolen gold in the ancient Mediterranean castle enclave of the eccentric artist Luce (the stunning Elina Löwensohn) and her lover go seriously awry when the lover’s beautiful female ex-wife shows up unannounced, with a young kid in tow no less, followed soon after by a couple of leather-clad motorcycle cops, and a day of wild shoot-outs, mounting betrayals, wrapped in a time-twisting narrative, ensue.
With extreme close-ups on scheming eyes, repetition of the twisting sounds of leather, wild (yet obsessively controlled) flights of cinematic fancy (the recurring surreal motif in “Corpses Tan” of a character, naked, wallowing entirely in liquid gold being one that springs immediately to mind), the startingly vibrant color schemes, the sheer fountain of eroticism, the beautiful people, the slick fetishizing of imagery, from weapons, to bodies, to body parts, and the luridly sexual approach to extreme violence, watching the hypnotic films of Cattet and Forzani is a wild presentation in a kind of relentless perfection in form and style.
From their short films, to their previous features Amer and The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, and now Corpses Tan, it’s stunning to consider one filmmaker this determined, with a consistency that speaks of the most intense of obsessions, to not just replicate the much beloved slick, sleazy and violent Italian exploitation films of the 60’s and 70’s (a daunting enough of a proposition for any artist), no, but to construct the perfectly realized representation of the aesthetic form, creating something sublime (again, on the level of pure form), let alone two of these wonderful whackos (married, no less) working together to create it.
The film, like Cattet and Forzani’s work in general, is one captivating set-piece after another that, each on its own, rarely ever fail to startle, even managing some hard-to-achieve-today transgressive imagery (such as a perfect form of naked woman, in silhouette against the beating sun, standing over a beaten man and urinating down on him). These are films that make the most incredibly precise, impeccable choices in constructing hyper-real stylish cinematic landscapes… but therein lies its flaw as well. These brilliant, unique formalists reveal little interest in creating character (they cast these precise and evocative faces filled with either character or transcendent beauty, or both, with almost uncanny accuracy) or capturing an audience with an interesting narrative. Their films feel more like brilliant museum pieces, to relish, to study, but with little to no coherent narrative thrust.
Corpses Tan’s time-twisting device, travelling back and forth in time, sometimes by mere minutes, to pick up another character’s actions, is a device that becomes almost entirely meaningless by the halfway point. It’s the second time I’ve seen the film, so I was primed to really pay attention to the logistics… and I still gave up, with character motivations (and even who was betraying who) still somewhat confused. There is no set-piece that stands out (because the entire experience is so overwhelming). Their films are the kind that sweep you along with the violent and erotic imagery, to which they indulge at the highest order in their obsessions at each moment and with every movement.
About the fascinating faces captured in the film, Löwensohn, as the violence-prone (a norm for most of the characters in the film is) rogue artist, was first memorably thrust into genre fans sight lines with Michael Almeyrada’s New York black and white indie vampire flick Nadja back in 1994, and, as with her appearance in Phillipe Grandrieux’s 1998 brilliantly sensual serial killer meditation, Sombre, she’s still proving that the mysterious and fickle camera adores studying her strikingly severe, fascinating female visage.
I keep hearing it repeated that Corpses Tan is the filmmakers’ riff on the spaghetti western, and while there are references to it (minus any of the abundance of mostly leftist political content that defined that fascinating subgenre), there certainly, much more appropriately, with the fetishizing of luger-style guns, fast European style cars, swift brutal action (unlike the lingering kind that usually enfolds in the Italo-western) and heist scene, it’s much more an obvious not to the Italian crime film, visually elevated (naturally) into a uniquely rarified air (as they always manage to do).
I’ve heard it argued that the two filmmakers would have been a far more appropriate choice for the Suspiria remake then the eventual helmer Luca Guadagnino was, with Guadagnino a director foreign to genre before the remake, but I disagreed. We would know what we would have gotten with Cattet and Forzani; an indulgent, formalistically brilliant simulacrum; something to study, but likely would not have come alive as a re-telling (not that I was arguing for Guadagnino, by any stretch, or a remake of Suspiria for that matter)… and how ironic to discover that, while the Suspiria remake was admirable in many ways, with the filmmaker really trying to develop the visual elements of the original (such as the dancing motifs, a super-cool sensual affect in the Argento film, bolstered up to an interesting narrative element in the remake), it ultimately fell short, letting the aesthetics and the formalistic presentation stifle the film, never allowing the world it enters to come truly alive (sort of exactly what I’ve been arguing about Cattet and Forzani!)…
Now, the programmers at the highly enjoyable monthly cELLEuloid series might have slightly cheated with their agenda on this one (it’s only half-directed by a female, after all!), I’m glad they did. Was a pleasure to bear witness to the intoxicating glory that is Let the Corpses Tan. Cattet and Forzani’s delirious filmmaking will always have me coming back for more, whether they ever develop beyond their uniquely brilliant, ultimately surface, formalistic representations of Italo genre films (I mean the fact that they boldly score their films with the original Morricone and Nicolai pieces from the earlier films they’re riffing on tells you all you need to know about what they’re doing)… or not.