Bertrand Mandico • Director of She Is Conann
"I wanted to tell a demonic story, a story of barbarity with a female twist"
- CANNES 2023: The French filmmaker explains his total revisitation of the legend of Conan the Barbarian and his desire for a heroic fantasy film which veers off course and takes us to another world
After The Wild Boys [+see also:
interview: Bertrand Mandico
film profile] (Venice’s Critics’ Week in 2018) and After Blue [+see also:
film profile] which competed in Locarno in 2021, Bertrand Mandico is landing on the Croisette with his third feature film, She Is Conann [+see also:
interview: Bertrand Mandico
film profile], unveiled in the 55th Directors’ Fortnight (unfolding within the 76th Cannes Film Festival).
Cineuropa: What gave you the idea to explore the legend of Conan the Barbarian?
Bertrand Mandico: I was thinking about a project involving succubi, demons, ancient worlds, and I had lots of notes on what Conann was going to become. Then the Théâtre des Amandiers asked me to devise a show about the making of a film and, almost out of defiance, I suggested we make Conan the Barbarian for the theatre. They said yes. I almost laughed, but it helped me to join up all of my ideas. Then I wrote my feature film screenplay which wasn’t at all related to what I was doing in the theatre. In terms of the original Conan, I kept the initial thrust in the opening scene of the first part of the story. I was inspired by the novels of Robert E. Howard, the author who created Conan. I dug even deeper into Celtic mythology, coming across with a Conann who had two “n’s” at the end of his name, who was a conqueror and who had visibly inspired Howard. This legendary character was surrounded by fantastical creatures, notably one with the head of a dog, which was a happy coincidence because in my notes I’d included a certain character who was a demon with the head of a dog. It all added up, and I wanted to tell a demonic story, a story of barbarity with a female twist.
Why this female twist?
I’m interested in offering actresses roles and characters which we’re not used to offering. I think we need to redress the balance.
How did you come up with the idea of several Conanns playing the character at different ages in her life?
While I was thinking about the concept of barbarity, I wondered what the height of it would be. In my mind, old age kills youth, starting with old age which kills its own youth. From this comes the idea that, with every passing decade, a new personality hatches which kills and betrays the previous one. I pushed this idea as far as it would go, and I worked on the basis of a multiple cast for a character who’s continually evolving and mutating. I also thought it would be exciting from a cinematic point of view, because I had to rely on the character and the personality of the different actresses to create this Conann with her mutating personality.
What about the demon Rainer, the biped dog who acts as a guide for Conann and the story’s guiding thread?
He’s a recurring figure in mythology. Dogs are animals which can cross over into the world of the dead. I wanted to create a hybrid character and put a camera around his neck, because he’s death, a demon, but also a witness. The film is also a significant homage, with its silhouette and look a la Fassbinder, who’s a dark angel in the film world and who I worship. What also interested me with this character – because there’s an unmissable Faustian bargain element here – is that, as Conann grows harder and becomes less and less human in her relations with others, Rainer becomes more human and ends up falling in love with Conann. Impossible love is hugely interesting to me.
Is it your mission as a filmmaker to twist universal themes?
Yes, or maybe break with stereotypes or habits we might have in how we depict certain subjects. Calling cinematographic certainties into question, not resigning myself to making a film in an apartment with my limited arthouse film funding, trying not to put my ambitions to one side and trying to solve issues using mise en scene and the scenery, whilst trying to summarise situations and probe significant subjects but on a human scale and from a human dimension. I also make films which I’d want to see myself, hybrid films. It’s a bit like collage: I’d like to see a heroic fantasy film which veers off course and takes us to another world. But there was one film which really influenced me for Conann: Lola Montès by Max Ophuls.
(Translated from French)
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