It is easy to understand the basic story outline for “Let the Corpses Tan,” a French language film opening in select cities this week. It is an armored car heist gone bad sort of affair. Or, more accurately, the heist goes perfectly well, it’s the escape that leaves something to be desired as the small crew led by Rhino (Stéphane Ferrara) are not able to get farther than the semi-crumbled estate of Luce (Elina Löwensohn), their base of operations, before two cops appear. From there, the movie is a hail of bullets and shifting allegiances, with Luce and the others staying at the estate caught in the crossfire.
Written and directed by filmmaking pair Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, and based on the book by Jean-Patrick Manchette and Jean-Pierre Bastid, the film is far more intricate than the basic crime story suggests. Yes, the main tale is a stripped down one, but there are intimations at something much deeper.
First off, the narrative winds around the notion of time. Various sequences are preceded by a shot presenting the time at which they take place. Usually, things are chronological, but not always. This leads to a question as to why the movie would be structured in such a fashion – why it would establish linearity only to break it at certain moments. Is it just to heighten the drama or does it serve a deeper purpose?
Some sequences in the film appear to take place in a dream or a fantasy or, perhaps, on a different plane of existence. Is it a place that rules our world or maybe foreshadows or something else? Does it exist out of time?
The editing of the movie highlights these temporal jumps and changes, just as it highlights these potential dream/fantasy sequences. There are not a lot of the latter, but the ones that are there stand out.
Then, there are the visuals. They are bloody and at times exceptionally colorful (though at night) and feel as though they speak to an evil of some sort. The ruins in which Luce lives purposefully apart from society are presented as more than uninviting, they are hostile. There is a beauty to them to be sure, by hostile nonetheless.
“Let the Corpses Tan” is not a movie interested in throwing up good guys (the police) against bad guys (the robbers), but much more in how and why allegiances might shift, just what it takes for some of these people to betray other ones, and to what end. This is made rather more difficult by the audience not having a whole lot of background on many of the characters, but that won’t stop anyone watching the film from guessing at answers.
Perhaps the only unabashedly good person in the film is a young boy who has found himself at Luce’s for reasons entirely outside his control. Is that, in and of itself, a statement about the goodness of youth fading away into ambiguity that comes with adulthood?
Rereading the above, I note that I have put forth a whole slew of questions prompted by the film and with little trouble I could offer up many more, but there would be little reason for it. The point is to show that while the basic outline of the narrative may be simple, there is a whole lot more going on in “Let the Corpses Tan.”
What I am less clear on is whether or not all of the questions have satisfactory, conclusive, answers. Some of them assuredly do, but not all.
Of course, depending on your point of view, that may be a good thing, and I would certainly argue in the case of this film that it is just that. “Let the Corpses Tan” may only run just over 90 minutes, but it is a movie that you will keep thinking about, keep turning over, keep wondering about over the next few days. Some of what it offers is stilted and some seems overly oblique, but far more of it leaves the viewer with meaty questions to ponder.
A bloody movie, it is not for everyone, but it is undoubtedly a fascinating piece of cinema and well worth seeking out during its theatrical release.
photo credit: Kino Lorber