O cursed hunger of pernicious gold!
What bands of faith can impious lucre hold?
— Aeneas, The Aeneid, Book III
Gold is a complicated metal, symbolically speaking. It can be used to signify The Sun, spirit, life, health, vitality, and abundance. Even the Christians, those rabid anti-materialists, use the color gold to symbolize divinity in religious icons.
Yet gold has caused entire civilizations to be razed to the ground. It’s caused people to risk life and limb with the promise of overnight fortune. Gold is responsible for more pain, death, and madness than perhaps any inanimate object in Human history.
Somehow, the many layers and multivalent symbol is summed up in Let The Corpses Tan, the newest feature from Belgian film-makers Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani. The lingering gaze on stacks of gold, verging on the pornographic. The golden showers, in bizzaro surrealist non-sequiturs. Beautiful naked women being painted with gold dust from head to toe.
Cattet and Forzani turn their surreal formalism of their previous two giallo-worshipping features, Amer and The Strange Colour Of Your Body’s Tears, with another exploration of Italian genre film. All of them. All at once.
Let The Corpses Tan is Cattet and Forzani’s loving, mind-blowing, eye-melting homage to pulpy ’70s heist flicks, Euro trash, with just a hint of Spaghetti Western. The story revolves around a gang of armed robbers – Rhino (Stéphane Ferrara), La Brute (Bernie Bonvoisin), and Le Jeune (Pierre Nisse). The trio of robbers are holed up in some crumbling ruins in the Mediterranean countryside, occupied by a band of misfits and drop-outs. Luce (Elina Löwensohn) is the woman-in-charge, an eccentric artist with a reputation as a madwoman with the locals. She’s shacked up with a young lawyer, L’avocat (Michelangelo Marchese), and an alcoholic novelist, Max Bernier (Marc Barbé).
Let The Corpses Tan begins with a riot of color and a burst of adrenaline, with Luce directing Rhino to “fire at will.” You’re lead to believe you’re being dropped straight into the action, but instead you find out Rhino is shooting through Luce’s vivid paintings with a powerful pistol. Instead of action, Let The Corpses Tan lingers on the details – the furrows and ridges of Luce’s paintings and the rich texture of Rhino’s handgun, which explodes like a depth charge with a physical recoil you can feel in your chestplate.
The film wastes little time in getting into the actual action. The robbers have a heist to rob an armored car laid out to a swiss-engineered glint. The robbery goes off without a hitch, as stacks of gold are splattered in blood as the gang ruthlessly murders everyone in their path.
It doesn’t take long for the plan to go off the rails, however, with the unexpected entry of Max Bernier’s wife (Marine Sainsily) and her son. The best laid plans of mice and men, eh?
It doesn’t take long for the law to show up, either. Two motorcycle cops show up at Luce’s estate after news of the bloodbath hits the airwaves. The motorcycle cops quickly suss that something’s up, and Let The Corpses Tan’s main act quickly comes to a boil.
There’s something here for every lover of any kind of Italian genre film. There’s all the squinty-eyed tension of a Western shoot-out. There’s the glamour and sensuality of Euro Trash. There’s even the high style and artistry of Italian arthouse films from the likes of Fellini and Pasolini.
Cattet and Forzani’s focus on texture and detail is integral to this film’s success. It’s lead to some critics to declare the film an exercise in style-over-substance, but that’s not quite accurate. For many genre film lovers, the style is the substance. Cattet and Forzani’s homages to ’70s genre films are stylish beyond belief. There is substance here, as well, even if you have to read between the frames to get at it.
Some have found Let The Corpses Tan‘s symbolism to be heavy-handed and cliche. Yes, the superimposition over a Death’s Head over Rhino’s face leaves little doubt as to his interior qualities. Sure, Elina Löwensohn’s portrayal of Luce as a madwoman possessed by her passions and quite possibly embodying the spirit of Gold may be somewhat over-the-top, but in this most acid-fried and genuinely sexy way imaginable. There’s also a nearly-hallucinogenic focus on black leather and polished steel speaking to the outlaw Zen of a band of thieves. And then there’s the psychedelic in-between scenes where characters are reduced to monochromatic Mod pops of red and blue that recall Antonioni‘s The Blow-Up and blows Quentin Tarantino‘s grindhouse efforts out of the sparkling blue water.
Let The Corpses Tan speaks to those of us who grew up cutting our teeth on trashy, low-brow, low-budget genre films from Europe and all over the world. Not everybody is fortunate enough to be breastfed La Dolce Vita and 8 ½ in the high chair. That’s also supposing that the movies of Fellini or other Italian auteurs are superior to other Italian genre films. An argument could probably be made that Dario Argento is every bit as important and as fine of a director as Federico Fellini or Michelangelo Antonioni.
Let The Corpses Tan is a perfect example of a style i’ve come to term ‘hyperpop’ – retrogressive works of modern art that emulate and replicate older works of art and often improve on them. Let The Corpses Tan is a fine addition to the canon of nutso psychedelic Italian midnight movies. It also turns an eye towards the future of Italian cinema. This is no mere retrophilia, not an aimless genre exercise in authentic forgery. Let The Corpses Tan‘s unique use of time and temporality, jump cuts and montage feel entirely modern – like Run Lola Run meets The Rip-Off beneath an angry golden sun.
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Operating out of Portland, Or., J makes electronic music and DJs as dessicant, hosting a weekly radio show on Freeform Portland, Morningstar: The Light In The Darkness. He also plays in the band Meta Pinnacle with his partner, the visual artist/illustrator Lily H. Valentine, with whom he co-founded Bitstar Productions, a visual arts collective/production company.