LET THE CORPSES TAN
“Tonight should last forever.”
Giallo meets Poliziotteschi in Let The Corpses Tan, an arthouse, grindhouse nightmare assault by French filmmakers Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani (Amer, The Strange Color Of Your Body’s Tears). Adapted from the Jean Pierre Bastid/Jean-Patrick Manchette novel of the same name, Let The Corpses Tan is a hypnotic 16mm frenzy of leather and gunfire, a bloody sunstroke filmed almost entirely in expressive, close-up inserts and edited like a panic attack. The pulpy premise (3 bandits hiding out with 250kg of stolen gold bars and 2 overzealous cops coalesce in a quiet villa, home to a fateful melodrama about to be shattered by the ensuing gunfight) is experienced more than it is told, the daylong siege cleverly edited into minute(s)-long abstract chunks of a larger timeline, actions and reactions stylistically ephemeral as the state of the character’s psyches and bodies develop.
Colors pop as the camera zooms, whip-pans and hones in on the way skin dries, eyes glance, leather squeaks and guns click—the film somehow managing to relay so much rich detail of the space and its occupants primarily through a collection of textures cut at hyper-speed is technically astounding and viscerally compelling. If only all genre pictures aspired to half the visual ambition and imagination of this. Wished it could last forever. Utterly sublime—Tarantino, look out.
The directorial debut of screenwriting auteur Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, Moneyball), based on the best-selling tell-all of the Poker Princess Molly Bloom, is sort of like a Scorsese gangster picture just with none of the visual wit or interest in character psychology. Molly (Jessica Chastain) is a former Olympic athlete and genius, or whatever, who eventually came to organize the largest illegal poker game in American history, you see, but [freeze frame] you’re probably wondering how she got there. To be fair, it is a fascinating real story about the ease with which money, power and politics bleed into one another, unfortunately that’s not the story Sorkin is interested in—for him Molly is a gateway into white, upperclass feminism, her journey one of simple workplace resilience in the face of the Boys Club that is the rich and powerful.
Sorkin writes Molly not as a person but as a mouthpiece for how women can do manly millionaire things too (“No ‘princess’ could’ve done what I did”), meanwhile the film fully buys into the meritocratic nonsense that suggests otherwise—Sorkin going through great pains to show you how smart and capable the Bloom family is right before stripping Molly of her agency to deliver one of the most embarrassing emotional climaxes of recent memory, explicitly pinning her actions on Daddy Issues. (Feminism, am I right?) Perhaps more offensive than Sorkin’s awful takes on sexism and class (a poor person to him is apparently a university professor) however is his lack of visual imagination. As a writer he is uniquely inclined towards the rhythm of language, the occasional witty wordplay, and the blocking/movement of characters in conversation, as a director he has a single trick: get coverage of dialogue (or literal images of what will eventually underlay voice-over) and cut to the pace of the audio. That’s it, for over two hours. There’s nothing here in the style or form that intimates character or theme because there aren’t any really, there’s simply a camera pointed at talented, charismatic performers being paid to shout the script’s framed, literalized arguments about a much more interesting story you could’ve just read instead.
Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier (Oslo Aug. 31st, Louder Than Bombs), coming off of a series of intimate dramas, brings that intimacy to the supernatural with Thelma, a quiet riff on Carrie and the dangers of repression. An assured film, no doubt, Trier and regular cinematographer Jakob Ihre render young Thelma’s (Eili Harboe) yearning for connection in gorgeously detailed close-ups you can practically touch and feel—a few lovely digressions into the emotional psychology of Thelma are borderline impressionistic, if a bit symbolically obvious, and linger over the rest of the events. Harboe is excellent as well, her eyes and posture communicating her unease and eventual longing. However it’s in the script by Trier and Eskil Vogt that things get a little tired, as it corners itself into genre tropes and often finds itself retreading information previously telegraphed visually for unnecessary clarity.
It’s story, one of a girl with supernatural powers raised in a strict Christian household finding herself unprepared for the complexities of the outside world (maybe a bit more than just a “riff” on Carrie), is an easy one to follow—and Trier knows how to compellingly depict these particular psychological stresses and emotions—so it’s baffling that so many of the film’s eventual reveals, that already take too long to get to (and suck a lot of the air out of the suspense as a result), are expository. There’s an embarrassing sequence where Thelma, having just had a series psychogenic seizures, and having them explained in detail to her by a doctor, goes home to do research on them and for a few moments the entire frame is just the literal Wikipedia page for them. After awhile it becomes hard to reconcile these scenes with the more impressively vivid ones: like a prologue that beautifully sets the stakes (actually recalls Shyamalan’s Split, from earlier this year) or a scene of Thelma’s emotions in conflict with her body in the middle of an Opera house. No better example of this than the film’s finale, a climax that beautifully unites her powers with her swirling emotions and ends on an image suggesting a new path forward… And then that path is literalized in the multiple scenes after it.