From Argento to Leone: Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani Dissect the Genre Influences of Let the Corpses Tan

As Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani continue to refine the giallo-inflected post-modern aesthetic they first explored in their 2009 debut feature Amer, the married French moviemaking team dig deeper into their armoire of audio-visual reference points in Let the Corpses Tan.

An adaptation of source material by novelist Jean-Patrick Manchette—known as the godfather of French neo-noir literature—and Jean-Pierre Bastid, Let the Corpses Tan’s kaleidoscopic visuals, rhythmic cutting scheme, and stylized violence make for a “mix between experimental cinema and noir,” Forzani says.

With New York’s Quad Cinema currently running a screening series curated by Cattet and Forzani, we asked the collaborative couple to share a conversation on the myriad influences reflected in their work.

Bruno Forzani (BF):  We approached our film in the state of mind of Jean-Patrick Manchette’s Laissez bronzer les cadavres, which in many ways reminds us of Italian westerns.The characters in the book are grey, not black or white, not good or bad… and everybody is at least a little bad. In cinematic terms, even if it’s not the same exact thing as neo-noir, Let the Corpses Tan bears similarities to John Boorman’s Point Blank, and even some Japanese cinema.

Hélène Cattet (HC): Django, KillIf You Live, Shoot! is one of our big reference points because we love Giulio Questi, and our film is an experimental western, in fact.

John Philip Law in Danger Diabolik. Photograph by Mary Evans. Courtesy of Ronald Grant and the Everett Collection.

BF: Giulio Questi’s Death Laid an Egg, was a personal, intimate approach to the Giallo genre. It reminded us of the freedom of the French New Wave. We like a pulp universe with strong colors and wardrobe. The female characters in The Laughing Woman, Venus in Furs and Danger: Diabolik, are icons because of their wardrobe. That psychedelic aspect was a big reference for us. We shot in a Mediterranean landscape, with natural light and in Super 16mm with Kodak 50D. In fact, we wanted to rediscover what we’ve done with Amer with the sunshine scenes. Using only sunlight you have to light all the shots with mirrors. We pushed the colors at the color grading. We carefully chose each color of the wardrobe, the cars and things like that, so they could properly mix with the landscape and the other colors.

HC: The movies of the ’60s and ’70s have this same atmosphere. We wanted to use these colors—very intense—with the grain of the film.

Elina Löwensohn as Luce in Let the Corpses Tan, which reunites her with Marc Barbé where they both appeared in Sombre. Image courtesy of Kino Lorber.

HC: We wanted a strong character for Luce in Let the Corpses Tan, and we’ve loved Elina in other films, but when we saw Elina in Philippe Grandrieux’s Sombre with Marc Barbé, we both thought it should be her.

BF: We chose Marc Barbé as the writer character so he could meet Elina again but in a sunnier universe than Sombre—which was visually very dark. In fact when we thought about [Let the Corpses Tan] it reminded us of Road to Salina because it’s shot in Spain. It’s very hippie like in ’68 like the beat generation and things like that. So the color is very intense. The scheme that we wanted is very hot in this mediterranean landscape. It reminded us a lot of the book Let the Corpses Tan.

HC: The music was really important, and The Road to Salina soundtrack inspired us in the adaptation process where we were listening to it on loop.

BF: What’s special about this music is that it’s not western music, but when you when you listen to it and don’t know the movie, you assume it is a western soundtrack. It was a way to reuse this music in a more western universe.

Philippe Nahon in I Stand Alone (Seul Contre Tous). Courtesy of Strand Releasing and Everett Collection.

BF: I Stand Alone is one of the features where the two universes of Hélène and I meet. It’s a way to approach genre but in a very personal way. It’s not like exploitation, it’s something totally different. And so in our attempt to make a genre movie but in a different way, it was a big reference. I Stand Alone is a bit like Sombre; it’s like a silent killer movie but with an auteurist point of view. We went to see it together in the theater something like 19 years ago, and we loved this film. It was self-produced and very pertinent. In the theater, The framing in Super 16 mm using the cinemascope ratio is very strong. There’s no camera movement, just static shots. In that way our story boarding was influenced greatly by this film.

Barbara Bouchet in Cry of Prostitue (Quelli Che Contano)

HC: In The Laughing Woman there is a big work of Niki de Saint Phalle who is a painter from the ’60s, and this artist inspired us for the Luce character. The character of Elina Löwensohn was a secondary character in the book, but we put her character at the center of the story because we wanted to transform the action through her art.

Angie Dickinson and Lee Marvin in Point Blank. Image courtesy of MGM

BF: We don’t pay homage, in fact we don’t say at any point, “this sequence will be like a Daria Argento sequence, this cut will be this.” We don’t do that. It’s simply that when we read the book, it reminded us of the universe of Italian Western. The movie had origins, the kind of landscape, the romanticism between eroticism and violence. But we don’t want to reproduce what has been done before. We use the language of Italian Westerns and Giallo—genre movies. The cuts of these genres are linked to the mise-en-scène. In Italian Western you have Sergio Leone who is a big director and in Giallo you have Dario Argento. These genres are linked to mise-en-scène. Some people use the colors of this genre to tell a different story, not the same story. I think, “where are you using this world?”

HC: Sometimes when we see a movie, something is talking to you. You are connected and you find your own language in the movie somewhere. But sometimes there is a dialogue with it. You can dialogue with a movie or a painter. You see a work that is talking to you, and then you must talk to yourself.

BF: And maybe it’s not what the director wants you to do. But you usually enter with your own point of view, so paying homage just doesn’t add to your approach in fact. MM

Let the Corpses Tan opens in theaters August 31, 2018, courtesy of Kino Lorber. Quad Cinema’s Origin Stories: Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani’s Footnotes to Let the Corpses Tan runs through September 1, 2018 in New York City. 

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