TIFF17: Let the Corpses Tan

Kickstarting my Festival with Midnight Madness

Imagine, if you will, a grind house film. The plot is as sordid, crime ridden, and twisted as you can conceive (ok, dial that back a tiny, tiny bit . . . yeah, something like that, that’s the place to start). Imagine further that the aesthetic of this picture is utterly suffused with the spirit of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, up to and including jangling sweep of a Morricone style underscoring. Now, add to that mental experience, Gallic indifference to the necessity of showing (and probably even shooting) every single frame of a narrative and then when it gets to the editing bay, shacking up with (again, this is France, mes amis) to the aggressive montage theories of Sergei Eisenstein, so that nearly every cut is a jump cut of varying degrees of severity that never fall below disorienting (but goes up from there). And in this film that I am asking you to conjure in your mind’s eye, create a situation where these jumps cut between our baseline, hyperstylized reality at “We’ve gone plaid” velocity to the intense subjectivity of human beings who live sensuously and to every possible extreme. And now, for this mind game I having you play, imagine that every possible distortion of color that pushes saturation and intensity to whatever extremes a computer will let you achieve in the direction of primary colors flashing in front of you as the most aggressive sound design you’ve ever encountered rattles your nerves, where the creaking of leather is as loud as a gunshot, in film stuffed to the gills with both leather and gunshots.

Ok, got it? You got some inchoate feeling for what such a film might be like? Good. Now, turn the style dial up to 15. Ok. Ok. Ok. Hold that thought.

You might be close to a sense of what watching LET THE CORPSES TAN (Laissez bronzer les cadavres) is like with in a proper theatre. Sorry, theater. When in Canada . . .

Welcome to the Toronto International Film Festival, Erin.

It started with a gunshot.

Hold up. The full midnight madness experience started an hour before the screening was scheduled to start, around the block from the Ryerson Theatre (which is not where Ticketmaster told me it would be — easily the worst part about TIFF is dealing with Ticketmaster, who’s online voucher system feels ripped out of 1999). That’s when the line was treated to the spectacle of two incredibly drunk people thrashing out bad life choices in full public view, while also being too inebriated to succeed at it. It was a late night out in a big city. Fortunately, it was not my welcome to the fair city of Toronto, with it’s finely tuned machine of an airport connected directly to Union Station via a gleaming express train, glittering glass obeliskes in the pulsating (at ground level) financial district, the massive concrete needle of the CN antenna towering gloriously over all of them.

My view of the CN tower from the left field line

Once the Midnight Madness introductions and screen shouting had subsided and darkness overtook Ryerson’s auditorium, and my TIFF experience had begun in earnest, a SHOT RANG OUT. The audience, including many seasoned veterans of the Madness at Midnight judging by their earlier participation in mocking the ads of the corporate sponsors, jumped. And we were off on this mad arthouse/grind house adventure into the heart of the events undoing this sensual criminal world swirling atop the ruins of a Corsican palazzo on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean (in one of those glorious international film ironies, the bulk of the film’s funding appears to have been shot in Wallonia, Belgium. C’est la vie, eh?

LET THE CORPSES TAN is an intense injection into the subjectivity of these cops and lowlifes and artists. It’s so much about the cinematic steroids applied to the primal subconscious thoughts of these people, that a plot description like “A heist gone awry leads to a running shoot-out that last’s through the night on the estate of a crazed performance artist,” doesn’t give you any sense of the madness to come. I certainly can’t do it justice in words. I have to reach deeper into my bag of superlatives than I have brain power for this morning before diving back into that film festival life (3 films today — a light day). The movie is based on a French novel from 1971 and if you think of the aesthetic of that era of international film, cranked to 15, as I believe I mentioned before, then you might be ready for this gut punch of a film about the people around a woman who might as well be an incarnation of the Greek fate Atropos, cutting threads left and right, and taking visceral pleasure in all the chaos and carnage around her (I . . . bet you aren’t). If that sounds like your cup of boiling tea (it burns, IT BURNS), then beg your local arthouse for an midnight experience.

It really was a great way to dive into an international film festival. Will it prepare me for what’s to come?

Probably not.

Here we go.

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