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Original tltle: Laissez bronzer les cadavres

D: Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani / 88m

Cast: Elina Löwensohn, Stéphane Ferrara, Bernie Bonvoisin, Hervé Sogne, Michelangelo Marchese, Marc Barbé, Marine Sainsily, Pierre Nisse, Dorylia Calmel, Dominique Troyes

On a remote outcrop of land, an abandoned church and its surrounding buildings has become the home of a once in-demand artistic muse Madame Luce (Löwensohn), her partner, an unscrupulous lawyer called Brisorgueil (Marchese), and a bohemian writer, Max Bernier (Barbé), who was once her lover. One day they are joined by a group of men – Rhino (Ferrara), Gros (Bonvoisin), and an unnamed young man (Nisse) – who, while on their way back from getting supplies at a nearby town, rob an armoured car of 250 kilos of gold bullion. But as they head back to the church, they find themselves picking up a woman, Mélanie (Calmel), her young son, and the boy’s nanny (Sainsily). The woman proves to be Max’s wife, there to hide out after abducting her son from her ex-husband who has custody. Meanwhile, two motorcycle cops (Sogne, Troyes) become intrigued by a sighting of Max’s wife, and decide to ride out to Madame Luce’s, a decision that will prove to have a number of far-reaching consequences for everyone there…

A Franco-Belgian production adapted from the novel of the same name by Jean-Patrick Manchette and Jean-Pierre Bastid, Let the Corpses Tan is a heavily stylised kaleidoscope of unflinching violence  supported by a bravura visual palette that employs all kinds of cinematic trickery to tell its tale of intrigue and betrayal and the legacy of the Golden Woman (Löwensohn’s Madame Luce, albeit in younger days). It’s an absurdist Euro-meta-Western, straight out of the late Sixties and early Seventies, and with compositions by Ennio Morricone from the period that fit neatly into Cattet and Forzani’s excessively mounted pastiche. Replete with every trick in the book to add energy and pizzazz to its flamboyant tale, the movie is exhausting to watch, with the camerawork and the editing designed in tandem to assault the eyes and render any resistance as futile. This is a movie that wants to dominate its audience into submission, to send it reeling away at the movie’s end having been visually assaulted by the extent of Cattet and Forzani’s colour drenched aesthetic. But while it does have an excess of, well… excess, Let the Corpses Tan doesn’t quite reach the giddy heights it sets for itself, and for all the visual distractions, its basic premise lacks conviction.

It’s nearly always the same: the more striking a movie is to look at, and the more its creators rely on creating an overly stylised mise en scene, the more likely it is that the story isn’t on the same level. Here this is unfortunately the case, as Cattet and Forzani (who also wrote the screenplay) forget to make any of the characters relatable or sympathetic, and though you could argue that this might be deliberate, when you don’t even care who gets out alive – or at all – then an opportunity has been missed. Such is the case with a movie where the expected body count happens at regular enough intervals but without any of them making an impact or eliciting an emotional response in the viewer. It’s rote storytelling, with the original source material diluted and weakened by the visual artifice it’s asked to support. The cast struggle too, with Löwensohn behaving as if Madame Luce is still tripping from the Seventies, while the male characters are pretty much indistinguishable from each other. And by the end even the violence has become tiresome. There’s a better movie hidden somewhere inside Cattet and Forzani’s screenplay, but in allowing themselves free rein with the movie’s look, that particular version was always doomed to stay hidden.

Rating: 6/10 – though visually adventurous and on occasion quite audacious – a fantasy sequence where the nanny’s clothes are ripped to shreds by gunfire leaving her naked is a prime example – nevertheless Let the Corpses Tan is only partly successful; a movie with style in (over-)abundance, but without the necessary substance to back it up, this can be enjoyed on a basic level, but those looking for more than just visual panache would do better to look elsewhere.