Directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani have brought their latest film Let the Corpses Tan (Laissez bronzer les cadavres) to the TIFF Midnight Madness program this year. The director-duo, best known for 2013’s giallo, The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears, have this time turned to the spaghetti western. Let the Corpses Tan (based on the cult novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette and Jean-Pierre Bastid) takes place in a remote hideaway, a den of thieves run by Madame Luce (Elina Lowensohn). After stealing a good deal of gold bullion, the criminals hide out in Luce’s Mediterranean home, but their plans are made more complicated by the totally unaware wife, son, and maid of one of the men. When the police finally show up, the film descends into chaos as everyone fights to get out alive — and with their gold.
Let the Corpses Tan is quite a visual spectacle. Super fast-cutting, deliberate framing, and rhythmic music help create an excited energy. Cattet and Forzani are incredibly stylish in creating their throwback crime western. Feeling like an Alejandro Jodorowsky film, Corpses manages to viscerally convey the feel of the hot, sun-soaked hide-out, and in the heightened aesthetics there is also a good deal of humour. The squeaking of characters’ cool leather jackets at every movement becomes a part of the soundtrack, while Lowensohn especially, as the incredibly bold and irrationally confident Luce, is both entertaining and somewhat inspiring. Laughing in the face of a gun pointed toward her in threat, her fearlessness is a delight.
But while Cattet and Forzani have excelled in their aesthetics with Corpses, they have not done much else. Obviously well-versed in genre conventions and how to crystallize various retro influences into one coherent film, Corpses itself is not quite a success. Taking place over the course of one day, the slight plot (going from an early breakfast, to the theft, to the arrival of the civilian wife, to the cops and ensuing shoot-out) should not be an issue — perhaps an easy and conventional crime narrative, it is nevertheless and effective one. Yet Corpses becomes exhausting.
Jumps backwards and forwards in time becomes gimmicky. Interesting and fun the first time, when used to depict events as seen through the eyes of multiple characters by rewinding the plot and restarting from a new perspective, this trick quickly becomes old. Likewise, the frenetic energy, gory violence, and repeated jokes soon lose their freshness as the film goes on. Corpses intercuts its narrative with a sort of fever-dream sequence of a woman painted in gold being variously tortured, or torturing others. Again, the repetition here within an incredibly creative sequence makes it lose its edge. We watch as she is repeatedly painted in gold, or repeatedly urinates on the faces of men, or repeatedly is covered in glittering dirt that people throw at her. By the third or fourth time, it is not quite as interesting.
In its speedy pastiche and unending energy, Let the Corpses Tan is like a caffeine-induced panic attack rather than the high-speed and engaging film it should be. As the film goes on, every element becomes too much, too often. The things that made it unique and fun in the first act become tiring by the third, and with its snappy style, it verges into the territory of the Tarantino-esque — something which is out of date, and in poor taste. While there is no problem at all with a film being style over substance, Corpses is perhaps too high-powered, running its perfected aesthetics into the ground.