LAISSEZ BRONZER LES CADAVRES
war on everyone
Being a movie buff doesn’t necessarily double the fun when watching the films of Brussels-based couple Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, but keeping an open mind to the possibilities of what cinema is still capable of as soon as it is bold enough to live outside the margins of what people connect to genre film today certainly does. The cinema of these two true auters is one based on sensory overload, elaborate mis en scène spectacles that dispense the need for accurate synopses as these would only fuel specific assumptions and expectations which would in turn get dismantled within a minute into the film.
Their debut “Amer“ - a fully-formed bow to Giallo - already introduced more than just an idea about the visually vocabulary Cattet and Forzani are capable of, and their follow-up “The Strange Colour Of Your Body’s Tears“, which revealed an almost Lynchian approach at nightmarish logic, seemed to confirm their unparalleled approach to filmmaking. “Laissez Bronzer Les Cadavres/Let The Corpses Tan“ didn’t only receive the unofficial award for coolest film tittle in 2017 but proved that their craft is well on track to get fully accomplished with every new feature. What essentially sells itself as a weird mix of spaghetti western and hardboiled early 70s European crime thriller on paper, manifests itself as a symphony of rapid-fire montages, sound, music, symbolism and delirious imagery that’s jumping off the screen in order to assault its audience on every sensual level imaginable. Who would’ve thought that it’s still possible in 2018 to conceive the act of filmmaking as a vehicle for cinematic inventiveness and great artistry informed by the last forty years of pop culture? Lodown hooked up with Monsieur Forzani during a mild Berlin winter in mid January.
Bruno, you and Hélène obviously are no rookies to filmmaking and its connected industry anymore... still it’s almost something close to a miracle that it’s still possible to realize a movie like “Laissez Bronzer Les Cadavres“, don’t you think??
(laughs) I know what you mean. In the early 2000s it felt as if a drastic change within the movie industry was happening... all of a sudden it seemed to turn into a playground with very promising possibilities again. You had all these fantastic directors with unique visions like Gaspar Noé, Catherine Breillat or Lars von Trier... true artists that proved that there are no more boundaries of what you can do or not do in cinema. And they were even commercially successful. This period of cinema unfortunately soon came to an end. In a way we want to add to this precious period with our films.
But we were also a bit lucky: “Amer“ became an unexpected success - on small terms, of course. The same with “The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears“, it offered an aesthetic that’s very far removed from mainstream cinema, but somehow it got distributed worldwide as well. Therefore it wasn’t too hard to finance this one - because we already proved that there is a niche market for this kind of cinema. Also, “Let The Corpses Tan“ is based on a book, which was written by Jean-Pierre Bastid - an author who’s pretty well known in France. When we met potential producers we sold it like a kind of heist movie where the violence becomes a kind of artistic performance... (laughs) and admittedly this pitch didn’t necessarily make it any easier to get it financed in the beginning, regardless of our references..
I haven’t read the book, but I can imagine that what you did feels much more like an interpretation than an actual adaptation, right?
Yeah, maybe you can put it like that. Hélène read the book in 2005 already and she immediately loved it. For her it was very clear that if we ever do an adaptation and not realize one of our own scripts, it will be this one. So I read it as well and really liked it a lot... still I had second thoughts about doing it, since the narrative is so very different from our previous films. (laughs) Or maybe it was because there actually was a clear, straight-forward narrative. I didn’t really believe in it in the beginning.
What made you change your mind?
The story reminded us a little bit of some legendary spaghetti westerns, and that was an angle we’d love to explore further. There were much more characters than in any of our previous films, but I came to the conclusion that if you’d do it right, it still can feel intimate and original even though it’s a classic crime story. When we started to work on the script, we found a lot of little doors to enter, behind which we could unfold our own universe - without losing the necessity of being faithful to the book. Still we made a few drastic changes: the main character Luce - who is played by Elina Löwensohn - actually is a secondary character in the book. Focusing on her allowed us to change the art and performance of how violence will be depicted, if you will. It becomes a different kind of action movie by changing the perspective and put this character in the spotlight.
Your visual language is very uncompromising and the way you handle violence in your movies also is very artistic. In “Cadavres“ for example, there is this jaw-dropping scene where the maid got her clothes shot off with a machine gun. Do you actually create these scenes specifically for the narrative, or do you have a kind of drawer where you store certain ideas which then eventually see the light of day if the project allows it?
(laughs) Nah, we create these scenes specifically when we write the script. In the scene you’ve just mentioned, it was more like our interpretation of the events that took place in the book. In the novel the maid fantasizes that she’s getting raped by one of the bad guys because she’s somehow attracted to him... but we definitely didn’t want to film a rape scene. So instead we compensated and illustrated her weird state of mind through gun attraction... I think it’s a way better idea to resume her emotional state. It’s also easier for the audience to connect to instead of choreographing a rape scene.
And that’s exactly what I find so amazing about your oeuvre: Hélène and you somehow still come up with images no one has ever seen before... and that´s quite something keeping in mind that the first commercial presentation of a movie dates back to the late 19th century.
Thank you so much. I think the reason why we’re so fond of creating a unique visual language is that we’re still feeling very lucky to be able to write and direct movies - and that’s exactly why we treat each project as if it’ll be our last one, making sure that everything we have in mind and feel in our guts will be put into the film. (laughs) And who knows, maybe soon it’ll be completely impossible to make these kind of movies. So far, there always was an interval of four years before a new movie of ours was released, and we actually need this amount of time to patiently develop and fully realize our ideas... you know, to make sure that we really gave it the optional 100% that were possible.
For “Cadavres“, finding the right location was an essential part since you basically need to design all the action around it. Was it a time-consuming process?
You’re right, it was essential... and fairly time-consuming. It took us a year and a half to find the right spot and it turned out to be a village on Corsica. What we found the most fascinating aspect of it was that it felt like a remote ghost town in a spaghetti western, but instead of the desert you had the azure blue of the Mediterranean Sea... a blue desert, if you like. Originally, we wanted to emphasize what’s happening inside the house as the story unfolds - but as soon as we found that spot, we transferred the focus to what’s happening outside.
How did you get Elina Löwensohn on board... I had quite an obsession with her when she was doing all these great films with Hal Hartley in the early 90s, and was pretty surprised to find out that she actually did a lot of French movies during the last years.
It was by chance, to be honest. We had a casting with Harry Cleven - who played the taxi driver in “Amer“ - and he worked together with her for his film “Mon Ange“. He told us that he believes that she could be the perfect choice for playing the Luce-character. We met her in Brussels shortly after, and actually she was so impressive that we built certain scenes around her character... as if she’s the grande dame in a chess play. She recently played in the excellent “Les Garçons Sauvages“ by Bertrand Mandico, another film that’s great but not necessarily for everyone. So, yeah, I think she’s still more focused on arthouse and indie films
This might be a weird question but do you actually make your movies with a certain audience in mind... or is it simply about your very own needs and expectations?
We definitely think about the audience... but we’re not necessarily doing movies for a particular audience, or for a specific market. (laughs) We know we’re not doing “Star Wars“. In general we have more like an audience with a strong affinity to genre films, but there’s an art crowd as well. I mean, if you’re not a director for hire, it all comes down to doing what you love, to doing what you think is vital and urgent. That’s also the reason why we refused to work in the States so far... there’s way too many people involved who want to have a greater say than the actual director
Music and sound always play a very prominent part in your movies, and often you create scenarios around music that already was used in a different context... wouldn’t it be way easier to closely work together with a composer?
Yes and no. For us it’s also a way to do a tribute to the things we love by using specific music from the 70s and 80s. Very often it’s the music I remember from specific films and not necessarily the quality of the acting etc. Listen to specific music - old scores in particular - is an essential part for us while we’re creating the script. It adds to the rhythm you’re trying to achieve, it adds to define the images you have in mind. Sometimes it’s not too hard to get ahold of a specific piece of music even though it was already used for a different movie... (laughs) but obviously it wasn’t easy at all to use a composition like “Faccia a Faccia“ from Ennio Morricone. For some strange reason any other music didn’t seem to work for the scene, so we were desperately trying to find a way to legally use it, because it adds so much more magic to the scene. There was no plan B, so luckily we succeeded in the end. The thing is, that a lot of modern music, digital music, just wouldn’t fit to our Super 16mm visuals... it would be a very different vibe, even though we try our best to not anchor our movies in time.
Old genre films most definitely inspire us - and so does the music - but it’s a bit like a fake memory, you know what I mean? We’re not re-watching them while working on the film, it shouldn’t be an accurately designed homage based on specific films, but a very loose one based on a specific feeling: the pleasure we had while watching these movies when we were young.
Chances are fairly high that your next movie will be an animation... is it because you need a break from your rather excessive visual vocabulary?
As I told you earlier, when we decided to work on “Cadavres“, I felt as if the whole thing might be too much removed from the universe I’m most comfortable with.... which obviously is a pretty scary situation at first. But looking back, it also was very interesting to be in this situation, we learned a lot of new things about the process of filmmaking because of exactly that. The original book this film will be based on actually is very pornographic... up to the degree where we couldn’t imagine doing it as a live action film ever. There are a couple of Japanese pinku animes from the 70s which are really fascinating... and we thought that with adapting the original material as an anime, we could break the boundaries of what you’re able to show, you know, like being inside the body while fucking and stuff like that. (laughs) What we have in mind is showing the trippy quality of sex when done right... so it probably will be kinda explicit and very psychedelic. For us doing an animation is a completely new way of approaching directing since questions about space and budget are not primarily ones anymore. But we’ll see... it’s very early stages at this point.
Laissez Bronzer Les Cadavres / 1h 30min / Belgium 2017 / directed by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani / starring Elina Löwensohn, Stéphane Ferrara, Bernie Bonvoisin. The film will be released in the US this summer.words: Forty