Hey you—yeah you—have you ever wanted to see a film where a woman is tied to a cross so tightly that she secretes a fountain’s worth of breast milk as a group of men kneel beside her, lapping up the liquid with a sense of glee that would put ol’ Augustus Gloop to shame? If so, firstly…
… and secondly, boy do I have the one for you. Fashioned as a love letter to the poliziotteschi films of yore—or Euro-crime if you prefer—as well as the more widely known spaghetti/acid western subgenres, Let the Corpses Tan is a suitably violent, phantasmagoric pastiche that is sure to tickle the fancy of anyone with even a passing interest in those modes of filmmaking. Co-directors (and married couple) Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani go for absolute broke, as bullets fly, colors warp, and time itself becomes a playground for mayhem. The result is an often wildly entertaining film—just don’t expect to care a single thing about any of the many characters involved.
Steeped in the same extreme, sun-beaten skin close-ups popularized by Sergio Leone, the pulpy narrative immediately begins with an act of dizzying disorientation that sets the tone and serves as a nice metaphor for the rest of the film. “Who doesn’t like gunfire with their breakfast” (or something to that effect, I sadly don’t have the exact quote) declares Luce (Elina Löwensohn), after firing a slew of rounds into a canvas, the splattering of red paint indistinguishable from blood at first. An avant-garde artist of some kind (think Julianne Moore in The Big Lebowski), she lives in a dilapidated Mediterranean compound and happens to be hosting a handful of unsavory criminals, chief among them the leather-clad Rhino (Stéphane Ferrara).
Soon the men rob 250 kilos of solid gold bricks (they gleam with a befitting cartoonish aura), and the plan goes off without a hitch… except for the unexpected arrival of another guest’s wife and child, as well as a pesky pair of snoopy cops. Tensions boil and a daylong shootout eventually erupts. I could tell you more, but Cattet and Forzani don’t prioritize plot, so why should I?
With so many players involved, timestamps are frequently used to orient the story, as the film chaotically jumps forward and backward through time, allowing for an all-encompassing look at the day’s carnage; one scene will happen, then the film will reverse and show the scene from a different perspective. It’s extremely playful, down to to-the-minute details that don’t really mean anything in the grand scheme of things, but this simultaneously precise and haphazard spirit is perhaps the film’s best aspect. It’s not often a film’s editing creates a sense of humor in its own right, but that’s definitely the case here.
In addition to the sterling editing, the film is downright beautiful to look at. Filmed in 16mm, the grain runs wild, and the colors really pop. As an homage to a certain period of time, visually it slots right in alongside those other works. There is an ongoing flashback that is without a doubt stylistically inspired by the revelatory Harmonica scene at the end of Once Upon a Time in the West. It’s not all old though, as a short sequence involving the use of colored filters and another one involving fireworks feel much more modern. As a technical exercise, there are no faults to be found.
Which only makes the lack of compelling characters stand out even more. It didn’t particularly bother me at first, but as the film races towards the sensory overload contained in the third act I found myself realizing how little I cared if anyone survived. Self-indulgence is the key to any good art, and I understand this is a film that’s more about the experience than it is about any sense of logic, but for my tastes violence and creaking leather sound effects only get you so far. By the end, I couldn’t escape the nagging sensation that Cattet and Forzani were a little too in love with what they’d created.
Still, there’s enough to love that I can’t fully blame them. If graphic violence, sunsoaked environments, and inventive editing are your jam, there’s a good time to be had with Let the Corpses Tan. It happily wears its influences on its sleeve—either to its benefit or to its detriment depending on your point of view—but it never wavers from a coherent vision of sleaziness and bloodshed. There are certainly far worse ways to spend an hour-and-a-half.