As summer comes to a close, we’ve seen an interesting selection of end of blockbuster fare mixed with risky Indies and art house films – including husband-and-wife team Bruno Forzani and Helene Cattet’s Let the Corpses Tan. Just one look at the retro-poster and you know the cinematic influences the filmmakers choose to employ to create this genre-laden film dripping with style and blood. Based on a pulp novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette, the two tell the story of three thieves who hide out after a robbery with an artist and her boyfriend. As more and more people crash the villa (including ex-lovers and cops), things turn into a massive, shoot-out. In an interview with FF2 Media, the two Belgian filmmakers discuss the adaption process, their collaborative experience, and creating stunning visuals in an uncontrollable environment.
Lesley Coffin: How did you find the property originally and conceive of it as a feature?
Helene Cattet: I was working in a bookshop and that’s when I found the book by Jean-Patrick, and when I read it I felt like it existed in a very familiar universe. It has a lot of western imagery and was written in a way which felt cinematic. So after I read it, I asked Bruno to read it, saying “I think we could adapt this.”
Bruno Forzani: I read it and it’s true, it was a very cinematic work. He wrote with a sense of time and place, he paid attention to the geography of action. But as a director, I was a little apprehensive because we’d never made a film like it or adapted a novel, but I trust Helene and followed her lead.
Lesley Coffin: Because the film’s visuals aren’t just adding style but driving the narrative, how do you write those elements into the script? Do those come later or are you writing them as you write dialogue and direction?
Helene Cattet: It’s as we write the script that we’re thinking of all those things. We are always thinking about how a scene will be sound, be edited, the colors.
Bruno Forzani: As we wrote the script we were thinking of the camera choices we’d make. And we took a lot of those ideas from the book, considering how we’d create the image described in the book. When things had a lot of dialogue we tried to map out the way the dialogue would be seen.
Lesley Coffin: Clearly you were inspired by some of the great genre filmmakers, as well as some of the art-house directors of the Italian and French cinema of the ’60s and ’70s. Do you discuss films that are inspiring you during the writing or pre-production process to see if you are inspired by the same films?
Bruno Forzani: When we read the book we felt there were similarities with the films described as Spaghetti Westerns made by Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci. But we didn’t want to just do imitations or homages to those films, so we really relied on the book to inspire the visual choices we made. We did tell those working on the films about the movies that were inspiring us those films and filmmakers created, to try to inspire them.
Lesley Coffin: How do you avoid making something that becomes parody or just an homage?
Bruno Forzani: We don’t watch those movies that the book reminded us during pre-production, because we didn’t want to steal from those filmmakers. You never want to just do something again that won’t be as good as the original. We know these filmmakers work, they’re part of our cinematic language, so we didn’t need to watch them to be inspired by them.
Helene Cattet: A lot of the time, we’d think or talk about the movies, and then when we finally re-watched them, we realized it wasn’t the way we remembered it. We’ve seen so many movies they are always with us.
Bruno Forzani: It was helpful to remember that these Italian filmmakers who made westerns or Agento, almost created their own cinematic language which we use now, but we’re telling our own story.
Lesley Coffin: It’s becoming more and more common to co-direct movies. Do you divide the work or do you do everything in tandem?
Helene Cattet: We are always doing everything together because we really want everything to be 100 percent ours. We don’t want one of use to make a decision about an element of the film without discussing it with the other. That means we have to compromise a lot but it prevents frustration. We need to be on the same wave length. On set, we’re always very well-prepared and usually together. On this film, we had to be apart sometimes because of the set, he’d be working with one of the actresses and I’d be working on a scene with the cops, and we physically couldn’t be together because we were shooting some scenes with the camera very close and others from a distance. But other than that, we like to be together?
Lesley Coffin: How did you find the location? Did the script change once you know the geography you were going to be dealing with?
Helene Cattet: We found the abandoned village, which was a difficult search. We needed the location to be very strong, and if we couldn’t find it, we weren’t going to make the movie. So we found this location, but it was complicated for the production because there were no roads.
Bruno Forzani: And once we found it, we realized it was very different from the location we wrote about and had to change everything. We had to re-write the action to fit the location.
Helene Cattet: It was complicated to shoot there, but we finally found ways to bring all the materials. The cast and the crew were cool because they had to climb up to get to set.
Lesley Coffin: What’s your directorial approach with the actors on this film? They’re also a big part of the aesthetics of the film, so I would assume you were giving specific direction on how to move and look on film.
Helene Cattet: We were lucky to have actors who really trusted us and were willing to go along with all our plans for this film. They played the game. We are really, really precise with our direction, there’s no improvisation and we are quite technical. And that forces them to be really present and in the moment, everything needs to happen in the frame we give them. We understand that our approach is unusual, but it almost becomes a game for them to give a performance in the space we allow. We were very happy with their work and they were very surprised when they finally saw it, because we shot in such a strange order.
Lesley Coffin: The way the film really mixes together the graphic violence with some gorgeous visuals, blurring a lot of lines. When making the film were you thinking of deeper commentary on how those things exists alongside each other?
Helene Cattet: For us, it was a challenge to make this movie because we’d never made a movie with gun fights. And when we took it on we were really thinking what our point of view would be. And we found our way with the character, the artist. She was a secondary character in the book but she reminded us of a French artist from the ’60s and ’70s, Niki de Saint Phalle, who became well known as part of the Nouveau Realisme movement. She really advocated for the destruction of symbols and taking a very explosive approach. And for us, that inspirited us on this movie. We treated the gunfights as performance art and the artistic moments as something explosive. That’s why we started the film that way, with the artist using the gun.
© Lesley Coffin (9/1/18) FF2 Media
Photos: Let the Corpses Tan (Anonymes Films,Tobina Film,Canal)