From its eye-catching classic poster, to its high-noon soundtrack and a sweeping vista, Let the Corpses Tan gives the impression of a modern twist to the spaghetti western. Though this French interpretation of an Italian interpretation of an American staple does aim to be more than western pastiche, it also fails to capture what made the spaghetti western successful in its time.
Let the Corpses Tan
Directors: Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani
Release Date: August 31, 2018 (Limited)
This directorial duo’s debut film, The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears, was a wash of color and surreal circumstance wrapped around the convention of a classic giallo--an Italian sub-genre of murder mystery slashers made famous by Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci--and it made for a captivating and uncompromising experience. Maybe the string of bloody murders helped the pace of that film. Let the Corpses Tan lacks the same level of constant movement with its single location and characters that spray dozens of bullets before striking a target, and that’s where it suffers most.
The plot is a tale of bandits who have stolen a gleaming cache of gold and return to an island retreat (a beautiful cluster of ruins on a rural tract of land) to lay low. The natural double-crosses and complications occur, and soon the group turns against each other with a lone police officer caught in the crossfire.
Though the editing can be breathless and frenetic, especially during the gold heist getaway, the constant barrage of smash cuts during slower sections chops everything to chunks and gives the impression that everyone is talking too fast and moving too fast, and it doesn’t give a moment to grasp what the hell is going on. This isn’t to suggest that there’s a ton to pay attention to, though. The entire film takes place in the ruins, and characters mostly hunker down and shoot at each other, rarely hitting anyone while talking about their plans and double crosses.
It’s all a bit dry, but at its best, Let the Corpses Tan feels like a film lost in time. Black-and-white shots of ants scurrying across the moon as if through a microscope blend with western landscapes which meld into motorcycle cops and muscle cars. Its inspirations are caught somewhere between the 40’s and 70’s, and it willfully evades any classification.
Symbolic elements of the surreal also alleviate some of the main plot’s monotony. Flashbacks of Luce (Elina Löwensohn), an aged owner of the island retreat, show her bound and whipped, ropes wrapping her body until breast milk pours out of her every pore, and then men run to lap it up. It gives a quick impression of a freer, more sexually significant time for her that has since been lost, as everyone is more interested in the gold than her. Another shows a man sneaking to the car where the gold has been hidden, and sparkling confetti rains around him and the vehicle on a pitch black stage. These are striking shots, but they’re few and far between in the slog of people talking and waiting instead of moving or shooting.
Luce is given powers as a sort of goddess over the island, and Let the Corpses Tan takes special note of her abilities without being overt. Surreal shots show her standing huge over a version of the retreat where ants represent characters scurrying to their holds. Her hand drips water to the earth, drowning the ants, and suddenly a storm pours in sheets across the island, complicating any escape for the thieves. These make for the most interesting moments and most powerful spectacles. But they also muddy the film more than it already is since her intentions are never made clear--a bit of a problem when you’re already juggling the hidden agendas of everyone else.
There are some beautiful shots and slick editing in Let the Corpses Tan. Memorable moments and strange sequences peek here and there complete with captivating images. Unfortunately, these aren’t the focus of the film, and the lack of movement in place or plot buries all of its best qualities like bars of gold scattered in the ruins.