LET THE CORPSES TAN – Fire and Fast Cutting in the Medditerranean

 

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Let the Corpses Tan (Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani, 2017)

Everything in excess. Everything inspired. One sure way to catch the attention of an audience be it in the form of scorn or adoration is to do things the way Godard would. It’s the cinematic equivalent of “What would Jesus do?” and all else in post-modernist cinema essentially branches out from there. One of the major weapons at the helm of filmmakers like Tarantino and others who cut their teeth on the Godardian technique is editing, and they wield it like a crazed maniac slicing and dicing like its nobody’s business. You remember those Looney Tunes cartoons where Taz comes ripping through a jungle in a giant whirlwind and everything is just tearing and flying? That’s how I imagine Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani were in the editing room when they edited their latest film, a rapid-fire pulp-drama of blood and fury, Let the Corpses Tan.

One of the most obvious aspects of the film which, like a gust of Meditteranean wind, revitalized me in a late showing (11:00 PM!) which I wasn’t all too excited about, is that it reverts back to a conviction similar to early Tarantino, where the film is hardly concerned with telling any of sort of meaningul story, but instead plows full steam into a rapid heart-pounding pastiche of movie tropes that play like being slapped by every page of a copy of Steven Jay Schneider’s 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Cattet and Forzani elaborately dress the film mainly as a Spaghetti Western with Giallo undertones and boil the stew up with Godardian jump-cuts, which are literally separated by a ticking timer (in hours & minutes) that tells you exactly how much time has passed both between each scene and since the beginning of the film. This is a moment of contention for me because it seemed to be the one and only place where the directing couple entered into a territory of excess that produced eye-rolls.

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It’s very difficult to tread that line between what can be considered bold stylistic experimentation and just doing a bunch of edgy shit for the reactions. This film falls almost on that line, but what really keeps it in reign is Cattet and Forzani’s understanding of where their inspiration is coming from. In the whole line of “movies about other movies”, if one doesn’t recognize the original utilization of a particular scene, or camera placement, or editing, an inspired subversion and homage to those images become merely cheap mocks. One of the best instances of this film really understanding where its style originates from is how every conversation between any characters in the film is a high-noon standoff with the camera constantly aware of every movement of a person’s eyes (averting, opening, closing), hands (on a gun, clutching a knife, caressing a woman), and feet (planted apart, together, or limp and lifeless). It’s a brilliant way to elicit all the emotions of a Western from just it’s bare-bones ingredients. Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani…you have my attention.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONMbWj8u-RA

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The Homesman

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The Homesman (Tommy Lee Jones, 2014)

Tommy Lee Jones is a guy who is more likeable than he is interesting… such is his directorial venture The Homesman. Miss Cuddy, still painfully alone and unmarried, takes on the task (a task that the townspeople object is not a woman’s duty) of traversing the harsh and dangerous western plains to transport three severely mentally disturbed women from their homes and into safety in Iowa. She befriends a good for nothing drifter named George Briggs to help her with the journey. Despite the impending danger which apparently lies all around them, the twosome rarely end up encountering any true peril or sense of death. Much of the conflict which arises throughout the film is passed through with silent glances, some sinister music and then a total anti-climax. Even the moments of passion or sensuality have no bite nor pulp to them… they expand no further than cockamamy dialogue and Hilary Swank’s incredibly annoying facial expressions.  Much like the climate and geography of the terrain Cuddy and Briggs travel through, the pallet of emotional resonance that paints this film never expands beyond beige, gray, brown, and a few hints of blue.

It is rather ironic and I should say a bit disappointing that a western which aims to break a path for feminism within the genre  is a story with absolutely no teeth nor claws. It’s agreeable, and as Cuddy says of herself; plain. While Tommy Lee Jones certainly understands all the nuances of a western, and he has a brilliant precedent (check out his wonderful debut The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada), one can’t help but believe that this film, in which majority of the showmanship comes from Jones himself acting out flamboyant and eccentric dances of his crazy character, tip-toes dangerously on the border of being self-indulgence which is another curious decision for a film which is supposed to concentrate on the humanity of its female characters. It’s an overall agreeable film, it works, and you’ll sleep well at night after watching it, but The Homesman isn’t a film you’re going to think much about, and I can’t say you’ll ever recommend it to anybody outside of die-hard “western” fans.