*. I watched this movie on a whim, mainly because I loved the title (which is a literal translation of the novel it’s based on, Laissez bronzer les Cadavres by Jean-Patrick Manchette). About two minutes in I was feeling a lot of Sergio Leone, but even more than that I was thinking to myself how much it felt like a movie I’d seen a couple of years ago called Amer.
*. As it turns out — and I did not know this at the time — it was directed by the same husband-and-wife team that directed Amer, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani. Instead of gialli, however, it’s sending up the neo-noir gangster as defined by Quentin Tarantino. And I have to stop here and say that I do hate dropping Tarantino’s name into the mix so often, but let’s face it: his knowing, self-referential, retro, playful, film-for-film’s sake aesthetic is still with us.
*. I’d rate this movie slightly higher than Amer. The problem with Amer, or the main problem I had with it, is that it didn’t add up and was hard to follow. Here, because there’s a source they were working from, it’s at least easier to understand what’s going on. Even in the final act, which takes place in darkness, we can still figure out what’s happening.
*. It helps that the story is so simple. A gang of thieves steals a truckload of gold bars and hides out in an abandoned (and ruined) stone villa overlooking the Mediterranean. Also staying at the villa are some decadent artist types. A pair of cops come calling and the thieves fall out. As they always do. The bullets start to fly and nearly everyone ends up dead. It’s a story that goes back at least as far as Chaucer.
*. But I don’t think anyone who sees this movie — and virtually nobody who has commented on it — gives a damn about the story. Amer had almost no dialogue at all, and frankly they could have done the same here and it wouldn’t have made any difference. Guns and gold, that’s all you need to know.
*. Instead of telling a story, the only thing Cattet and Forzani are interested in is flash. This is a movie not just dominated by but entirely composed of gimmicks and stunts: extreme closeups, discontinuous editing, and what seem like a thousand other visual tricks meant to startle and surprise. Meanwhile, the soundtrack provides the perfect loud accompaniment, with cannon-blasts of gunshots, a Morricone-ish score that doesn’t back down a whit from the master, and lots of creaking leather.
*. There is also a lot of corrupted sexuality, as personified in the character of Luce, played by a fifty-year-old Elina Löwensohn who still looks hot as hell in a bikini. She is into bondage and (giving) golden showers. I think the latter point is meant to rhyme with the ecstasy-of-gold plot. I wonder if it’s in the novel.
*. The usual line is to chalk all of this up to the directors’ sense of style. I would not go so far. Style is meant to express something, it carries emotional (and sometimes intellectual) weight. It does work. What we get here is gimmickry. The endless stunts and flourishes don’t serve any purpose beyond themselves. They are meant to impress, but only to impress. Or to divert our attention from whatever isn’t going on.
*. Many of the reviews of the film talk about its style but then confess that this gets to be too much and in the end becomes fatiguing. I thought it got fatiguing very quickly. This is because I found it impossible to care a whit about any of the characters, or how the plot was going to resolve itself. I think this was because Cattet and Forzani may have cared even less.
*. In a way, I guess a film like this could be thought of as a contemporary exercise in pure cinema. The point then would be precisely that we shouldn’t care about the story or the characters, but only in the way these elements are rendered. The film is a kind of a crucible, with that brilliant Mediterranean sun melting everything down to . . . what exactly? Not all that glitters is gold.