No one makes movies quite like French husband-and-wife team Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani. The directing duo first made a splash in 2009 with “Amer,” a postmodern homage to Italian giallo films that was followed up by another giallo homage, 2013’s “The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears.” Both films are filled with a stunning blend of eye-popping and provocative visuals, a kaleidoscope of colors that evokes Dario Argento’s sumptuous technicolor nightmares, woven together with scores lifted from giallos from yesteryear. With this intoxicating cinematic formula, Cattet and Forzani quickly became must-watch genre filmmakers.
Rather than sticking with this successful formula, they branched out with their latest film, “Let the Corpses Tan,” putting their own spin on the western. “Let the Corpses Tan” takes place on a sun-soaked, isolated island hideaway, where a grizzled thug named Rhino (Stéphane Ferrara) and his gang plan to hide away with an eccentric artist, Luce (Elina Löwensohn), after pulling off a bloody heist of 250 kilograms of gold bullion. But things don’t go quite according to plan, they’re faced with some unexpected guests, including a pair of suspicious police officers — sparking a wild day-and-night long shootout, fueled by psychedelic drugs, greed, and paranoia.
Although adapted from the 1971 French novel, “Laissez Bronzer Les Cadavres” by Jean-Patrick Manchette and Jean-Pierre Bastid, Cattet and Forzani told IndieWire that they drew inspiration from a number of sources, from the films of Jean-Pierre Melville to spaghetti westerns, but also from a surprising place — the nouveau réalisme art movement.
Founded in 1960 by art critic Pierre Restany and painter Yves Klein, the movement sought to bring life and art into a closer union. The filmmakers said they were particularly influenced by Niki de Saint Phalle, an artist who would sometimes shoot bullets into the canvases of her paintings, something mirrored in the film’s opening scene — complete with splotches of thick color and smoldering bullet hole POV shots — by Luce.
But introducing this fine art element to the movie didn’t just serve to pad out Luce’s artistic background. It also grounds the film’s psychedelic flashback sequences, where Luce’s highly sexualized performance art is on full display. The scenes are beautifully shot, with a mixture of blue skies, golden sunlight, and murky shadows that featuring a younger Luce urinating on a man buried from his neck down, or being trussed up on a cross, champagne foaming across her naked body. But while the scenes are tantalizing, Cattet admits they weren’t actually in the novel.
“In the book there is maybe one line, talking about the past, and performances,” she said. “But not a lot. Just one line, and just with this line. It inspired us.”
As with their past films, the pair utilize familiar soundtracks from older films throughout “Let the Corpses Tan,” including Ennio Morricone compositions from two giallos, 1971’s “The Fifth Cord” and 1972’s “Who Saw Her Die?” During flashback sequences, Christophe’s “Sunny Road to Salina” from the 1970 French-Italian psychological thriller “Road to Salina,” helps to set the hypnotic stage. The tune will sounds familiar to viewers, as Quentin Tarantino also used it in “Kill Bill Vol. 2.”
Reutilizing old soundtracks isn’t just a way to infuse the films with a deeper sense of nostalgia. For Cattet and Forzani, the songs are chosen because they are part of the film process, from the writing stage right up to the editing process.
“The music is at the beginning of the conception of the movie,” Cattet said. “Because as we are listening to the music when we are writing. So the music inspires, and gives the rhythm when we are writing. [The songs] have the texture of the past, the way they are recorded. It’s interesting to bring old music, and to put it in another context, and to give it another meaning.”
As Cattet and Forzani make films that aren’t just sonically linked to old giallo, but also visually inspired by them, it’s perhaps no surprise that the duo love some of the genre’s best offerings, with Dario Argento’s 1975 masterpiece, “Deep Red,” often cited as the best giallo ever made, topping the list.
“It’s not the only one,” Cattet said. “But it’s really rich with the architecture, with the way it plays with the point of view, it’s really rich.”
Forzani mentioned another Argento film, 1982’s “Tenebre,” as well as Lucio Fulci’s “A Woman in a Lizard’s Skin,” and Giulio Questi’s “Death Laid an Egg.” Forzani also highlighted Fulci’s 1972’s giallo, “Don’t Torture a Duckling” as a favorite film.
“It’s so modern,” Forzani said. “There’s one sequence with Florinda Bolkan, and it looks like a Tarantino sequence, but it was made in the early 70s, and it’s amazing.”
The duo plan to return to their giallo roots in the near future, as they are planning on turning “Amer” and “Strange Color” into a trilogy. But before they do that, Cattet and Forzani plan to adapt another novel, but this time as an animated film.
“For us it’s a new territory,” Forzani said. “Each time when we do a film, for shots, we’re always blocking in real life with objects. But here you can be more abstract and go farther from what we can do in real life.”
While Cattet and Forzani have been praised for their own giallo-inspired films, they still have some reservations about this year’s biggest title inspired by the genre — Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 classic, “Suspiria.”
The pair laughed about it and joked that they would be remaking Argento’s “Inferno” next, before Cattet offered a shrug. “Well, let’s see,” she said.
“Let the Corpses Tan” is now playing in limited release.