Saturday 30 September 2017

Let the Corpses Tan (Hélène Cattet / Bruno Forzani, 2017)

Cattet and Forzani's third feature - which screens at the London Film Festival on the 9th and 10th of October - is the first of their films to feature something resembling a coherent narrative, and as such marks a progression for the directors.  While it easily clears the low bar set by their overrated debut Amer, it lacks the nagging creepiness that made their second film, The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears, so compelling.  It seems unlikely that their new film will improve their commercial standing, with distribution outside of the festival circuit destined to be very limited.  As with their previous two features, Let the Corpses Tan sees the Brussels-based couple look conspicuously south to Italy, where this time around their eyes are not so much on (re)creating a giallo but rather fashioning something closer to a spaghetti western; although, that said, Corpses does cast the net slightly beyond that country and subgenre, with the film approximating a look and feel that anyone reasonably familiar with 70s Euro exploitation flicks will instantly recognise.

The film, unsurprisingly for this pair, proves a difficult one to get a grip of in its opening stages, and the first few minutes are as jarring, fragmented and elusive as anything in their previous two features.  Just past the ten minute mark, however, the directors' credit suddenly appears on screen, and this proves to be a watershed as the film immediately clicks into a framework that we all know and recognise: an escorted armoured truck is brought to a halt by a criminal gang, who kill everyone inside (and outside) of the vehicle before making off with the cargo - a cool 250 kilos of gold.  Following the robbery, the gang hole up in their remote hideaway - an ancient, sun-kissed lair that's home to a kooky female artist.  Full of caves and ancient ruins, this retreat towers over the surrounding valley and provides a good vantage point - although this doesn't stop two police officers surprising the gang, and an extended, bloody shoot-out commences.

The scenario is one we've seen countless times, and Cattet and Forzani have appropriated a configuration we're used to seeing in countless films by the likes of Tarantino, the Coens, Martin McDonagh, and so on.  As well as the cops vs. criminals face-off, matters are complicated as a series of betrayals ensue as the glittering gold proves just too tempting for the thieves to honour any agreement they may have had.  It's a well-worn setup, but the difference lies in the directors' immaculate mounting of the piece; every single sound and image here has been painstakingly crafted in a manner that's the antithesis of the quick, cheap, often shoddy exploitation cinema of the 1970s that the film so obsessively riffs on.  Even when the main narrative begins, the film still contains the odd (and very odd) avant-garde interlude, but these don't get in the way to any significant extent.  As the climax rages, it's often hard to work out who's firing at who, with many close-ups of the various participants' eyes proving disorienting.  It's almost as if the filmmakers are pulling back from delivering the linear conclusion befitting of the yarn we've been spun for the last hour or so.

It's hard to know if we really learn much more about Cattet and Forzani from Let the Corpses Tan - even after just two films, their impeccable technical skills were obvious.  One thing they do prove here, though, is that they can do tension - a scene where a police officer avoids gunfire by creeping through caves is suitably well wrought.  An on-screen clock, which frequently punctuates the action, paradoxically keeps the nerves jangling while being of no real relevance to the proceedings (early on, the getaway driver glances feverishly at his watch as he speeds away, but beyond the obvious need for a quick retreat there's no clue as to what particular deadline he's trying to meet).  Come to think of it, the clock's effect, which is inversely proportionate to its use, perhaps neatly sums up Forzani and Cattet's raison d'être of form over content.

Let the Corpses Tan is definitely worth 90 minutes of your time, but, just as with the directors' previous two features, the slavish, monomaniacal recreation of something that there's already countless examples of begs the question: why?  If you opt to clear the snow from your driveway with a teaspoon instead of a shovel, isn't the net result the same?  And should anyone really care?  Maybe, then, this film and its predecessors are more about Cattet and Forzani's journey, and less about the results we get to witness on screen.

Darren Arnold

Images: Shellac Films