Off to Brussels now, in two ways even. 1) At this point, the wonderful Cinema Nova is the only place to see Laissez Bronzer Les Cadavres (Let The Corpses Tan) and 2) the French couple who made this film have been living in Brussels for a while now. It’s safe to say Bruno Forzani and Helene Cattet are frequent visitors of the Nova too, as the couple shares the cinema’s love for Italian cult cinema. (In case you’re unaware, the Nova shows lots of movies you wouldn’t see in other cinemas, from old to new, documentaries about Calais to Italian cannibal gore, from sleazy pulp to movies more high-brow than you can make your eyebrows go.)
Laissez Bronzer (or LBLC, to give my fingers some rest during the rest of this review) is the third of the couple’s feature films. Previously, they also directed L’ etrange couleur des larmes sur ton corps – like Ms. Cattet’s first name, this title is also missing an accent or two, but that’s what you get if you’re forced to write reviews on an iPad – and, more importantly, Amer, which you may have spotted somewhere late at night (it’s been on Arte and Horror Channel, to name but two stations). Amer was a stylistic masterpiece, but its visual beauty overpowered the movie’s storyline. To a degree, that’s also true for LBLC. Style over content seems to be the couple’s biggest flaw, but whether this is a real flaw or original intent, is something up for discussion. Because style over content is also a valic criticism of the giallo movies Cattet and Forzani clearly love. Actually, you’d be a fool for not spotting this: the couple do more than paying visual homage to this Italian cult genre, their movies also use those soundtracks. The moment LBLC burst into Ennio Morricone‘s score for Who Saw Her Die was a personal highlight.
However, style over content doesn’t mean there is no story. To summarize it as briefly as possible, there’s an artist couple living away from society in an area full of ruins. (Corsica does have some great ruins, it must be said.) There’s a handful of gangsters raiding a truck full of gold. There are two police officers, a man and a woman, investigating this. And there’s a woman with her son and a maid, looking for her husband. All of this will be combined in a showdown that’s hard to follow. Oh, it’s pretty easy at the start, but once you’re past the movie’s credits – which incidently made me think more of Berbarian Sound Studio than the genre movies both films are referencing – the film offers you what’s happening in a series of butchered cuts from multiple angles. I do mention the butcher here because that’s the final location pre-credits. Is it also a tell-tale sign of what’s about to follow? The butchered timeline of the story and/or the ensuing bloodbath? Anyway, without wanting to spoil too much, let’s just reveal the female police officer gets shot. You’ll see this at least three times, once in her perspecitve, once from the shooter and once from a witness.
But whereas this is still easy to follow, when the movie progresses and alliances are no longer as clear as they were in the beginning, it’s almost impossible to keep track of the story. We heard more than one frustrated sigh from other people in the audience. So, let’s put it this way: if you want an easy-to-follow storyline with goodies and baddies, this is not the right film for you. It doesn’t help either that the film is occasionally layered with scenes that are either metaphorical or hallucinogetic (or why not both?). There’s a long-haired female figure and several other shadowy figures that just don’t want to show themselves clearly, in scenes best described as Jodorowsky re-shot by giallo directors. If that makes sense, well done on your knowledge of cult cinema. If not, join the people in the audience who were also clearly baffled. There is a scene, all shot in shadows, where the long-haired female figure is tied to a cross. As ropes entangle her, it seems she’s lactating while someone opens a bottle of bubbles. But the amount of foamy juice running down her body you see next, makes it obvious this may not be the most literal scene in the movie.
Also, far from literal is the sound of the film. And it’s as good as any moment to say hello again to Berbarian Sound Studio. In post-production, Forzani and Cattet recreated the kaleidoscope of sounds you hear in LBLC: from the sound of leather uniforms moving while walking on rocks to the sequence of a lighter being opened and the subsequent sounds of a cigarette being lit, you’ll hear any kind of sound in the film in glorious detail. We can only hope the sound engineer of LBLC fared better than the protagonist of Berbarian.
The artist couple in LBLC describe themselves as amoral, meaning they’re equally inviting to criminals as to police officers, upholders of a law system the couple don’t really believe in. Which means LBLC doesn’t offer you a list of characters to root for, something to bear in mind when the massacre begins. And yes, massacre is an appropriate word because the film gets very violent. Tiptoeing on a fine line between acceptable and gratuitous, the film seems more interested in the way blood flows or splatters rather than in offering an overdose of gore, but we do understand LBLC can be too violent for a fair share of viewers. (Though, it must be said, most of those viewers won’t go and see the film anyway once they’ve read the title of the film – by the way, excellently appropriate for such a combination of homage and experiment in style.)
Last but not least, we should also mention two people from the cast that leap out for obvious reasons: Stephane Ferrera has been in a fair share of French cult movies (a.o. Godard‘s Detective) whereas Elina Lowensohn will not be a stranger to the fans of Hal Hartley or Michael Almereyda. From visuals over sounds to the cast, everything in Let The Corpses Tan screams out this is an intentionally crafted cult movie. Even to the point where it shouldn’t surprise you anymore the film was based on a 1971 novel by Jean-Pierre Bastid, who also wrote and directed several cult movies from the 1960s to the 1980s. Or was that the final straw and are you now suffering from an overdose of cult references? If so, feel free to start with Amer, which may be a bit easier for novices. If not, you may have found a wonderful alternative to a trip to the tanning salon. Just don’t forget to the butcher’s first.
Sorry about that. Some puns seemed like a viable option to end a review of a complex film, one with a difficult structure and an unclear ending. How else could we have finished it? We couldn’t have left you stuck in the middle of