Cut the bad weeds.
It’s as though Roxy (Paula Luna) is standing at the gates of Heaven, being judged for what transpired during life on After Blue—a new planet devoid of computer screens post-Earth’s cultural destruction. Do we ever see the God she’s relaying her tale too? No. Or perhaps we are that God, judging her actions against whatever criteria we have in our own unprompted minds. The latter makes sense considering writer/director Bertrand Mandico operates under the cinematic Incoherence Manifesto that he co-wrote Katrín Ólafsdóttir. He “has faith in cinema” with a “romantic approach” that’s “unformatted, free, disturbed and dreamlike” with “an absence of cynicism, but not irony.” What happens to Roxy isn’t therefore provided any context. It’s atmospheric, hyper-sexual mood for us to embrace on our own individual terms.
Some will surely love this esoterically poetic avenue, letting its content wash over them without needing any rhyme or reason to why anything is happening. Others—like me—will find themselves thirty minutes into a two-plus hour movie wondering why we should keep watching. Because while After Blue (Paradis sale) is undeniably bold, beautiful, transgressive, and singularly memorable, it possesses nothing of substance for me to care about the journey. That this is the point gives me pause, but Mandico’s intent doesn’t change how it affected me (or didn’t affect me) in the moment. All I saw was a hazy otherworldly planet inhabited by bare-chested women with neck hair (the planet’s effect on hair has made men extinct) and glitter acting on violent or lustful impulses.
That’s not to say there isn’t purpose to Roxy and her mother Zora’s (Elina Löwensohn) forced crusade finding the elusive killer Kate Bush (Agata Buzek). Roxy stumbled across her head in the sand while walking the beach with friends she doesn’t really like. Kate told her that she’d grant her three wishes if she unearthed her from her prison and Roxy complies. What she didn’t expect, however, was that her unspoken wish to get those friends to stop bothering her would be granted in brutal fashion. Kate retrieves their rifle, takes aim, and kills them all. Now those women’s mothers demand retribution, tasking Zora with the deed. She and Roxy travel to the mountains to acquire vengeance, armed with a Gucci (guns have designer brand names) and fear.
How their adventure unfolds, however, is by a bunch of random occurrences and wild flights of fanciful absurdity. There’s an artist with a gun (Vimala Pons‘ Sternberg) providing Zora assistance and distraction; an impossible man (Michaël Erpelding‘s Olgar 2) with an octopus penis Roxy becomes infatuated with; and native inhabitants of the area called Indiams that look like Sasquatch with crystalized geode faces. Everything that occurs simultaneously gets them closer to their mission physically and takes them further away mentally, but they can’t return home without completing the task. They could simply agree to never return and stay here in the wild west where no one back there would ever dare to look themselves, but that would require motivation and, dare I say, coherence. There’s no film then.
This truth might be where my inability to let go and enjoy the ride comes in because there literally is no reason for me to try. Roxy and Zora don’t want to kill Kate. They want to just find pleasure in the smoky dunes whether by their new acquaintances or their own hands. To therefore fill out two hours without any real plot becomes pointlessly redundant beyond whatever new aesthetic wonder Mandico unveils. It’s enough to get me through (don’t forget to stay to the end of the credits to finally catch a glimpse of the moment the film has been using as its main press still), but only superficially. I wanted to see how weird things got and whether something would happen to make the experience worthwhile.
Sadly, no such revelation occurred. That doesn’t mean it won’t for you. Take my words only as a warning that you’ll either be its target audience or not. I might even say avoid it if you’re the latter (I probably won’t ever seek out another of Mandico’s works), but you won’t really know unless you give it a chance. Therein lies the conundrum of art such as After Blue. To say you dislike it is to be speaking to others who agree. To say you like it is to do the same. I’m not going to convince a lover that it’s a waste of time and they won’t convince me it isn’t. For that I must applaud the filmmaker because few are willing to be so unapologetically polarizing.
courtesy of TIFF