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After Blue (Dirty Paradise)

There’s this weird French filmmaker, Bertrand Mandico. He has a new movie I’ve seen people raving about called SHE IS CONANN. When I read about it, I realized that over the last few years I’ve read about two other movies of his that also sounded really intriguing. So I decided to finally try one.

AFTER BLUE (DIRTY PARADISE) is his second movie, it’s on Shudder in addition to DVD and blu-ray, but it’s not horror. The reductive way I thought of to describe it is “Jodorowsky’s BARBARELLA,” then I noticed that the promo materials from distributor Altered Innocence call it “a lesbian EL TOPO (in space!),” so I guess I’m not the only one to think of it that way. But I think mine is a little more precise.

It’s set on a planet called After Blue, where people moved to when “the Earth was sick, rotten,” and made new rules banning electronics and screens “to avoid the same mistakes.” Everything works differently there. For example, something about the atmosphere makes hair grow on your neck, and for men it grows inward, so they all died off. Luckily, women can be inseminated “with good Earth sperm.”

Recommending it to friends I felt I had to include the caveat “it’s kind of a sex movie,” but that’s inaccurate. It’s not pornographic at all, and doesn’t seem designed for the viewer to get off on, but may still seem scandalous to some because the main character (played by Paula Luna) is meant to be a teenager as she’s, uh, discovering stuff.

Her name is Roxy, but the other girls in her village pick on her by calling her “Toxic.” One day when they’re running around on the beach Roxy notices a human head in the sand, then realizes it’s not a severed head but a woman buried up to her neck. The other girls taunt and threaten the woman, but when they run off to swim the woman promises to fulfill three of Roxy’s desires, like she’s a damn magic fish. So Roxy frees her. The woman is very seductive, in many meanings of the word. She comes out of the hole covered in glitter and mud, shoots the other girls with their own rifle, then comes over and makes out with Roxy, smearing her with the glitter and slightly cutting her neck before taking off. So I think she represents Roxy’s curiosity about both sexuality and her dark side, her anarchic side.

Roxy likes crawling into holes. For example she crawls underground to smoke a caterpillar and touch herself while thinking about that lady. Through the cracks in the floorboards she hears the women of the village confronting her mother Zora (Elina Löwensohn, SCHINDLER’S LIST, NADJA) about her daughter freeing a notorious killer who had been imprisoned that way by the Polish militia. Some of Roxy’s hair pokes through a crack and a woman steps on it. Roxy and Zora are ejected from the community and can’t return until they kill Kate Bush.

Yes, I have been withholding that the killer is named Kate Bush. They say it dozens of times throughout the movie – Kate Bush this, Kate Bush that. A reference to the singer, I’m sure, but not the same person. This one has a distinctive face but also you may recognize her from her one hairy arm or the blue stain tattooed over her heart. Roxy also knows she has a third eye in her pubis, but she doesn’t tell anybody that part.

So this is a surreal space western with Roxy and her mom journeying across bizarre landscapes, trying to find ways to survive. Roxy is taunted by her dead friends in ghostly visions, and haunted by her attraction to Kate Bush. Every frame looks strange and beautiful, with many scenes washed in purple, blue, red, yellow or green, like a psychedelic fantasy novel cover. There’s no green screen, just real nature and sets infused with otherworldly plants, orbs, gems, slime. Another movie it reminded me of a little was Lucio Fulci’s CONQUEST – that hazy, dreamy beauty with some monsters and bloody savagery.

Zora often mentions that she’s merely a hairdresser, and I’m not sure if that means the same thing as here or not because the only hair we see her cutting is on necks, with a straight razor equipped with a little blue light to help her see what she’s cutting. They camp in a translucent tent shaped like a crystal. Their guns have long pencil-thin barrels, make a charging sound like a defibrillator when you cock them, and have name brands (Zora’s is an old Gucci).

Horses have been imported from Earth, but maybe After Blue changes their biology too. When we first see Kate Bush’s horse it has all its organs on the outside. By the end it’s so mutated it’s walking around upright and has a giant sucker mouth like a lamprey. She just uses the reins like a leash.

As much as Roxy longs for Kate Bush, she goes wild the first time she sees a man. She runs straight for his crotch, where there are a bunch of weird tentacles that fondle her face. Later she squeezes his nipple and a little bit of blue stuff oozes out, then a marble, which she keeps with her and smells to remember him. Turns out she’s straight, I guess, if she’s into that.

Wait – how is there a man? Turns out he’s an android named Olgar-2 (Michaël Erpelding) who belongs to Sternberg (Vimala Pons, ELLE), a wealthy artist who reminisces about “the end of screens” and “the neo-virtualists,” and packs a Chanel. She says Olgar hates her self portraits with floral hats, even though he’s blind. She invites them to dinner and talks alot of shit about her rivals Kiefer (Pauline Lorillard, THE WILD BOYS) and Climax (Anaïs Thomas, SAINT LAURENT) and their “unbelievably banal” ultra-neoclassical torso sculptures.

Kiefer and Climax wear furs and have light up eye lids. Zora offers them 50 dollars and the bounty to kill kate Bush. “We’re artists. Not killers,” they say. “70.”

My friends, I know that some of you will reject AFTER BLUE, because it’s 129 minutes long and not as interested in narrative as we generally prefer. To truly put terror into your heart, I will inform you that a dozen years ago Mandico co-authored a manifesto called “International / INCOHERENCE,” and in an interview he said “To be incoherent means to have faith in cinema, it means to have a romantic approach, unformatted, free, disturbed and dreamlike, cinegenic, an epic narration.” But I looked up the manifesto and it’s mostly describing his idiosyncratic filmmaking methods: loose screenplay, all sound and no FX done in post, expired film stock, plus ambiguous geography and time period in the story, and “containing at least two genres.”

I would say this is more enigmatic than incoherent. For me it was completely captivating, a transporting experience. I love its approach to so-called world building – it feels like a full fantasy reality has been created but nobody’s gonna give us enough of it to fully understand. There’s a nice mix of poetry and comical absurdity to the odd things they say: warning that Kate Bush “could cut her own horse’s throat while listening to disco,” talking about liquid music and diamond bullets, Olgar-2 confessing that he dearly wants to know what it feels like to be shaved.

It’s also one of the most visually beautiful movies I’ve seen in a while. It does appear to be true that Mandico shoots all on film and does everything in camera, no digital FX or green screen or anything, but he knows exactly how to light and filter and decorate the settings to make them look fantastical.


Even the end credits are hard to look away from!

I was really curious about who would make a movie like this. He’s not a young ‘un, he’s a little bit older than me, he’s just spent much of his time doing short films. One of his long term projects is a plan to make 21 aging-and-desire-themed short films in 21 years with Löwensohn, who plays Zora here. (They’ve done more than 21 together but I’m unclear how many are part of this project.)

In an interview with Variety Mandico names Jean Cocteau, Sergio Leone and FANTASTIC PLANET as influences on AFTER BLUE. He mentions that long ago (the ‘90s, I think) he studied animation and collage at Gobelins, and loved Eastern-European animators, especially Jan Svankmajer. These all make sense. He’s an arty weirdo who’s into cool shit. I will explore further.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 6th, 2024 at 1:27 pm and is filed under Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit, Western. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

15 Responses to “After Blue (Dirty Paradise)”

  1. I didn’t dislike this movie, but rather than “Jodorowsky’s BARBARELLA,” or “a lesbian EL TOPO (in space!)”, I simply used “quintessential international festival movie (director’s fortnight edition)”. It’s long, the actors are more models giving Kuleshov effect demonstrations, and it’s working in a ‘genre’ that it doesn’t seem to have much interest in (and/or thinks it’s above). Y’know, a western/sci-fi movie but instead of saloons/spaceships, there’s dinner parties where the nature of art is discussed (thus subverting audience expectations and all). Lots of wacky sets, costumes, and colored lights to make some intriguing screen grabs for the program. Etc, etc, etc.

    This one’s okay. ‘Kate Bush’ is said WAY too many times, there are WAY too many dinner party conversations about art, and the whole thing is WAY too long. But these movies always are, because festival programmers like things that eat up a lot of time. And this is definitely custom made for that circuit

  2. Oh, and the director is always either an installation artist or a commercial/rock video director

    I don’t know where this particular director falls, but seeing he has a manifesto, my money’s on the former

  3. That sounds very dull, but the dinner scene (pretty sure there’s only one) doesn’t really function for the viewer as a conversation about art, since they’re name dropping futuristic movements we have no context for. It’s just a joke about how much Sternberg resents Kiefer and Climax, who are apparently more respected than her just for sculpting torsos and leaving them out in the woods somewhere. I thought it was a good use of a couple minutes of screen time.

  4. I really couldn’t tell you how many dinner scenes there were.
    Honestly, you could tell me there were 28 dinner scenes, or none, or half a dinner scene where the entirety of the Prussian army slurped up welsh rarebit through their anuses, and I’d believe you. It’s the kind of movie that lives… vaguely in one’s memory. I believe that’s on purpose.

  5. This sounds interesting to me. (I own the Jodorowsky DVD box set and have watched FANTASTIC PLANET more than once.) The stills kinda give me a Panos Cosmatos vibe, too. I will consider a free trial of Shudder to maybe check this out.

  6. I understood every single word of this review.

  7. Sounds a little bit like LIQUID SKY but in space instead of 80s New York City.

    I am going to have to track down EL TOPO and watch it, the only Jodorowsky movie I have seen is SANTA SANGRE which certainly had its moments.

  8. Talking about weird French filmmakers, you should dive into Quentin Dupieux’s body of work. I think we all saw RUBBER, but he cranked out quite a few more since then. I think this year comes a Salvador Dali semi-biopic with music from Thomas Bangalter.

  9. Also, I didn’t intend to make it sound dull. I was more responding to the ‘you’re probably gonna hate this, but…’ tone of the review.

    (I guess it’s probably worth noting that I saw it two years ago while working through a stack of festival screeners. So perhaps exposure in a different context would make me less reductive. I mean, I’m human. I can only take so many genre deconstructions before I need a regular ‘ol genre construction to sort of recharge the battery)

  10. This sounds exactly like the kind of movie I’d have loved in college, but not sure if I would have the patience or headspace for it now. But it does sound interesting. “[A] full fantasy reality has been created but nobody’s gonna give us enough of it to fully understand” is very much my jam.

  11. That makes sense, jojo. Not the best context to see a movie of this type. Sorry if I was dismissive.

  12. I second the Quentin Dupieux recommendation. He is one of my favourite currently working directors. I try to see everything I can from him. I saw Keep An Eye Out at a festival, but to get the blu-ray I had to order the French disc that didn’t have any English subtitles and then download the subtitles separately. My guess is that the subtitles were ripped from British Amazon Prime which had the film for some time. Then I ripped the film from the disk, added the subtitles and burned it to a new disc.

    Anyways, I love his work. His run of Keep an Eye Out, Deerskin, Mandibles and Incredible But True is amazing. One brilliant, hilarious film after another. And they’re all like only 80 minutes each!

  13. One more thing about Dupieux. He’s super prolific. Since 2018 he’s released one or two films a year. Which is great for a superfan like me.

  14. And yet my favourite Dupieux directorial work is this:

  15. I find Dupieux very uneven, but almost always worth it. DEERSKIN is great, and might find some traction here. It’s a slasher film! Kinda!

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