Review: She Is Conann
- CANNES 2023: Bertrand Mandico delivers an insane parable about old age killing youth, revisiting the legend of Conan in plural, female form with a Faustian bargain to boot
"I’ll show you barbarism. Let the show commence!" By way of The Wild Boys [+see also:
interview: Bertrand Mandico
film profile] and After Blue [+see also:
film profile], Bertrand Mandico imposed his unique style, an artistic vision exuding singularity in all its forms with radical intransigence. His new opus, She Is Conann [+see also:
interview: Bertrand Mandico
film profile], unveiled in the 55th Directors’ Fortnight (hosted by the 76th Cannes Film Festival), ploughs this furrow powerfully and with renewed ambition, tackling a virile legend in the form of Conan the Barbarian. But we couldn’t be further from John Milius’ famous film of the same name (1982) starring a body-built Arnold Schwarzenegger than we are with this hybrid effort by the extravagant and sophisticated French filmmaker, whose hellhound photographer guides us through the ages and through Conann’s (with two ‘n’s, as per the Celtic spelling) six female reincarnations in a demonic journey through time and the human soul.
"I was born at a dark time when people believed in demons and wonders". It all begins with a flashback from Hell where an elderly lady who’s forgotten everything is confronted with the memories of her past in the presence of Queen Conann (Françoise Brion) and the biped dog Rainer (Elina Löwensohn). "You will become the most barbaric of barbarians. By my side, you will reach the peaks of success", the latter promises 15-year-old Conann (Claire Duburcq), who’s a slave to Sanja (Julia Riedler) and her gang of killers who murdered her mother and wallow in primitive violence. After "an initial victory snatched as if tearing off brambles", Conann begins her reincarnations, killed each time by her older self, getting a taste for murder (Christa Theret), visiting the dangerous spirit world, falling in love with her enemy, and then forgetting everything, having become a stunt woman (Sandra Parfait) in the Bronx in the 1990s ("life is a snake undulating in the dazzling metallic sun"). But when damnation (and Rainer) catches up with her and her mask falls, she (Agata Buzek) takes an even more demonic and cold path, massacring non-stop ("I kill everything that can be tied up") in the Old European world of bankers and scientists. It’s a change which culminates in an awful muse-themed dinner for contemporary artists, which makes The Big Feast look like an innocent bit of fun…
Playing on the romanticism of the macabre in a highly suggestive setting whose theatricality is diminished by the vaporous, fluid flamboyance of the movie’s mise en scène, and by the black and white tones shot through with flashes of colour, the film "opens, empties and stuffs". Corpses pile up in a succession of tableaux which ultimately depict a unique, dead kind of nature, bringing Mars and Saturn together in a chilling and highly cinephile medley. This heroic fantasy typical of Bertrand Mandico definitely won’t leave audiences cold. Such is the power of the mirror of the human soul, held up in such a way as to deform real artists.
She is Conann is produced by Luxembourg’s Les Films Fauves and France’s Ecce Films and Floréal Films, in co-production with Orphée Films, Le Théâtre des Amandiers and Belgium’s Novak Films. International sales come courtesy of Kinology.
(Translated from French)
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