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Let the Corpses Tan
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by Jay Seaver

"Prettier than the typical action movie - and louder!"
4 stars

SCREENED AT BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL XX: "Let the Corpses Tan" isn't the same sort of ultra-violence as high art as other films you might describe that way - it's more about the striking image than the impeccable choreography, the sort of thing that you can screen-capture and show to someone who doesn't necessarily go for big action rather than the clips you dissect looking for cuts and doubling. Fortunately, it's in the hands of some of the best in the business at creating striking images and just enough to stitch them together, and they're happy to dispense with subtlety.

The story is simple enough - it's July, the sun is pounding down in a sparsely populated area near the Mediterranean, and Luce (Elina Löwensohn) has a couple of guests at her villa - friend-and-likely-lover Max (Marc Barbé) and his lawyer (Michelangelo Marchese) - but doesn't know said lawyer is working with a criminal crew led by Rhino (Stéphane Ferrara) planning to knock over an armored car and lay low at Luce's place with the quarter-ton of gold within. Of course, that's not the sort of crime that goes unnoticed in the best of cases, and things start to get fairly crowded when not just the police, but Max's estranged wife (Dorylia Calmel) shows up with son (Pierre NIsse) and nanny (Marine Sainsily) in tow. And when all hell breaks loose, the timetable for an inevitable double-cross tends to get moved up.

Belgian filmmakers Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani did not go in for complicated stories in their previous two films, and Corpses doesn't exactly break that pattern. But while they still don't supply a lot of detail in the plot, what there is serves to clarify rather than confuse, putting the connections between scenes within reach rather than pushing them just out of reach. They still aren't providing a lot of exposition, and having the whole thing turn into a big shootout doesn't mean they won't occasionally fragment the narrative, but they're serving a different sort of emotional end here, looking for adrenaline-charged thrills rather than mounting unease, which leads them to sometimes be a little more playful.

For instance, there's a spot in the middle where, even by the terms of what's already an action-packed picture, things go straight to hell, and while one might expect Cattet & Forzani to pull the camera back to let the audience be awed by the turning point, with the music reaching an operatic crescendo, they instead start jumping back in time, showing how everyone arrived at the same moment, but they do it in shorter and shorter increments, both because the viewer needs a little less information each time and because it picks the tension and pace up, but it's also darkly funny - this is always going to end with a gunshot, and everybody is getting their legs kicked out from under them. It's chaos, not a hidden connection, so just try to ride it out.

It should be noted that the shots serving as exclamation points here are mixed at an incredibly loud level - if nobody in the theater is jumping out of their skin or the neighbors aren't complaining, then one is probably not experiencing Let the Corpses Tan as it is meant to be seen and heard. These are not subtle filmmakers, but they deliver a feast for the eyes and ears, giving the audience images that could come from a Hugo Pratt comic if he were one for bold colors, just still enough to burn themselves into memory but with enough motion and action that they seldom feel posed for long. The setting is perfectly run-down, with sunlight that feels like it could turn one's skin to leather just by watching it. And then there's the gold, shiny and enticing but also somehow dirty, like there's a black layer underneath the shiny surface and that's what will be on someone's hands after they touch it.

All that style and focus on imagery can often make the characters seem a little less individually important, so long as they look their parts, and there's a fair amount of that going on here: Elina Löwensohn, Marc Barbé, Stéphane Ferrara, Marine Sainsily, and the lot slide into their parts well, all feeling like they belong in the same movie and being suitably colorful in how they play off each other. There's not necessarily any particular character that will stick with the audience or make them want to know more, but they work as a group.

That's to be expected from a movie by Cattet & Forzani; they've got the striking style that can easily overwhelm the rest of the film. It's definitely an art-house sort of action movie, but it's one that does well by both halves of that description.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=31802&reviewer=371
originally posted: 04/15/18 05:38:22
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2017 AFI Fest For more in the 2017 AFI Fest series, click here.

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