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LOCARNO 2021 Competition

Review: After Blue

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- French director Bertrand Mandico’s second captivating feature film catapults us onto a mysterious, sensual planet where cruelty and beauty duet to the rhythm of a techno beat

Review: After Blue
Paula-Luna Breitenfelder in After Blue

After a succession of short films selected for numerous international festivals and a first feature film entitled The Wild Boys [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Bertrand Mandico
film profile
]
which debuted at the Venice Film Festival (Critics’ Week) in 2017, Bertrand Mandico is presenting his mysterious second work After Blue [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, a mind-blowing blend of sci-fi, gender bender eroticism and visual poetry with an intentionally kitsch flavour, in the International Competition of the Locarno Film Festival.

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In a far-off future, on a planet which seems uninhabited and desert-like at first glance, young Roxy (aka Toxic), played by the ambiguous and ethereal Paula-Luna Breitenfelder, digs up a criminal buried in the sand called Kate Bush, in homage, perhaps, to the legendary English singer who specialised in surreal, mysterious and romantic atmospheres. Free at last, the criminal kills Roxy’s three friend-enemies, before taking flight, leaving a trail of fear and destruction in her wake. Held responsible for the murders, the teenager and her mother Zora (the magnetic Elina Löwensohn) are driven out of their community and condemned to tracking down the assassin in order to avenge the crime committed. Without any real sense of direction, mother and daughter begin wandering through the desolate and decaying lands of their planet, an anti-paradise inhabited exclusively by women. They must stay on their guard, however, because the “women” depicted by Mandico bear no resemblance to the usual stereotypes over a presumed, natural and fertile femininity - stereotypes created by a patriarchal society which sees them as all the same, docile and resigned. The “dirty paradise” (as per the film’s original French title Paradis sale) in which Roxy & co. live doesn’t revolve around any kind of gender binary. It doesn’t matter which gender these heroines belong to, nor does it matter if the concept of gender vanishes, as it does in the case of the cyborg Louis Vuitton, which was created by one of After Blue’s inhabitants based on pictures and the likeness of his former lover. What does matter is the sensual power of their inner world. “It’s not a man or a woman, it’s a Louis Vuitton” explains the cyborg’s creator when introducing her robotic companion, ironically wishing to make fun of a society, our society, where everything needs to be catalogued and interpreted through the prism of gender binarism.

The planet created by Mandico seems to visually translate Donna Haraway’s theories on cyborgs, free beings who lay claim to an opaque identity based on an ambiguity experienced as a strength rather than a weakness. After Blue is an ode to diversity, to the beauty of an instance of humanity which is finally free to express its own multifaceted identity. “I wanted to craft an ode to film and to actresses, a singular and universal adventure borrowing the framework of westerns, the cruelty of old fairy tales and the lyricism of sci-fi”, explains the director, singing the praises of his film’s diverse references. After Blue isn’t just an homage to the ambiguity of human beings, it’s also a patchwork of references to film genres which are all too often stigmatised, such as sci-fi or even westerns. Mandico doesn’t shy away from anything; on the contrary he seems to want to exacerbate the characteristic traits of these genres, proudly revealing to us their surreal and kitsch sides. This intentional tendency towards excess lends the film an indispensable measure of humour and self-mockery, as if wishing to remind us that the seventh art is also made up of cathartic moments in which we can experiment with a kind of freedom and lightheartedness which life often tends to neglect. After Blue urges us to embark upon a journey (both filmic and human) experimenting with unusual and sensorially powerful visual forms, a universe that’s both poetic and cruel, and which draws our gaze like a black hole.

After Blue is produced by Ecce Films (France) in co-production with Ha My Productions (France) and is sold worldwide by Kinology.

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(Translated from Italian)

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