'Let the Corpses Tan' ('Laissez bronzer les cadavres'): Film Review | Locarno 2017

Let the Corpses Tan-Still 1- Publicity-H 2017
Courtesy of Locarno Film Festival
Too much is almost enough.

Elina Lowensohn stars in the third feature by writer-directors Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani, a Franco-Belgian neo-Western premiering at the Swiss festival.

Stylish swagger goes full-tilt boogie in Let the Corpses Tan (Laissez bronzer les cadavres), the latest delirious exercise in lovingly retro pastiche from Brussels-based writer-directors Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani. Having amassed a devoted cult following with luridly horror-flavored Amer (2009) and The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears (2013), the duo now adapt an influential 1971 French novel. The result is a spectacularly assaultive, borderline incoherent neo-Western that will recruit few new converts but is also guaranteed to leave no spectator indifferent. Bowing on Locarno's Piazza Grande, it's a must for festivals specializing in outre fare — midnight slots appeal — and suitable handling can yield respectable returns via both theatrical and small-screen release in receptive territories.

A politically engaged polymath who died at age 53 in 1995, Jean-Patrick Manchette collaborated with Jean-Pierre Bastid on his debut novel Laissez bronzer les cadavres, which re-energized the hard-boiled "polar" thriller-genre with cutting social critique. It's somehow never been translated into English, whereas La Position du tireur couché (1981) became The Prone Gunman, the source of Pierre Morel's abortive 2015 Sean Penn action-vehicle The Gunman. That $40 million picture sputtered in multiplexes, but Let the Corpses Tan is emphatically aimed at a much more niche market.

Plotwise, the screenplay is both very simple and crazily convoluted. Bernier (Marc Barbe), a clapped-out writer, is living in crumbling bohemian splendor in a residence atop a craggy peak overlooking the Mediterranean (most of the filming was done in Corsica). He passes the time in a sun-stroked stupor amid various hangers-on including his eccentric sometime muse, Luce (Elina Lowensohn).

Their decadent seclusion is interrupted one hot Friday when perpetrators of a nearby armored-car robbery, with whom they are somehow previously acquainted, turn up wanting to lay low. Led by grizzled veteran Rhino (Stephane Ferrara), the gang have made off with 250 kilograms (550 pounds) of gold after brutally executing the loot's guards. Before long, a pair of leather-clad motorbike-riding gendarmes (Herve Sogne, Dominique Troyes) arrive on the scene; Bernier's young wife (Dorylia Calmel) and son (Bamba Forzani Ndiaye) also call in unexpectedly, accompanied by the kid's nanny (Marine Sainsily).

Once all of the protagonists are duly assembled, a protracted and absurdly over-the-top series of shoot-outs commence, their berserk frenzy — amid a welter of stylistic tics and tricks — making Ben Wheatley's Free Fire look like the proverbial vicars' tea party. Working once again with virtuoso editor Bernard Beets, the directors deploy frequent date-stamps to chop up the action into staccato fragments over the course of a single, very hectic 24-hour period. The double- and triple-crosses quickly become almost impossible to follow for those unfamiliar with Manchette and Bastide's original, and after a while it's very tempting to simply surrender to the bizarro flow of images and sounds.

Let the Corpses Tan is variably engaging as a drama — the frenetic surface flashiness, all whips and zooms and machine-gun cutting, barely attempts to hide the hollowness within. Apart from veteran indie/underground queen Lowensohn's amusingly uninhibited and sardonic Luce, the characters are barely more than ciphers, and Manchette's social commentary aspects have largely been jettisoned. But there are compensations: The soundtrack is an extravagant and constantly stimulating delight, and has the makings of a crackerjack release in its own right. Making copious and imaginative use of pre-existing cuts by genre legend Ennio Morricone and hit songs by 1960s smash Nico Fidenco, among others, Cattet and Forzani assemble an immersive bygone soundscape.

Indeed, the picture works best when it eschews dialogue and plot altogether and the lush musical elements combine with the intense hues of Manu Dacosse's 16mm-shot visuals to stimulatingly trippy effect. Wearing each and every one of their influences on their gaudy, blood-spattered sleeves, the duo — with assistance from Quebecois "guest director" Karl Lemieux — revel in post-modern kitsch in a self-indulgent and repetitive manner which will send impatient audiences scurrying for cover. But while their box of tricks is undeniably limited, current narrative cinema would be the poorer and duller without their particular, polymorphously perverse provocations.

Production companies: Anonymes Films, Need Productions, Tobina Film
Cast: Elina Lowensohn, Stephane Ferrara, Bernie Bonvoisin, Michelangelo Marchese, Marc Barbe, Marine Sainsily, Herve Sogne
Directors-screenwriters: Helene Cattet, Bruno Forzani; based on the novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette and Jean-Pierre Bastid
Producers: Eve Commenge, Francois Cognard
Cinematographer: Manu Dacosse
Production designer: Alina Santos
Costume designer: Jackye Fauconnier
Editor: Bernard Beets
Venue: Locarno Film Festival (Piazza Grande)
Sales: BAC Films, Paris (sales@bacfilms.fr)

In French 
92 minutes