After Blue


Reviewed by: Jane Fae

After Blue
"Where narrative fails, look for symbolism; and there are symbols aplenty. It’s just not clear that they mean anything coherent."

After Blue is weird! Even, I dare say, surreal; and not just in the common everyday way usage. No, it is surreal in the studiedly artistic sense of a tumbling of the unexpected, the uncanny and unnerving. It is designed to wrong-foot the imagination and make you think. Possibly.

To begin. Humanity, or some part thereof, has ruined Earth through the ravages of uncontrolled technology. Now they are on After Blue, which they have decreed a tech-free zone where they can survive, while getting back to natural ways. Or at least, where one half of humanity can survive.

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For only “ovarian-bearing beings” can make it on this new world. Men’s hair grows inside and this has proven fatal. So, we are here dealing with the latest in a recent fashion for imagining a world in which some specified part of those living there previously is no more. And the “world without men” trope is popular to the point of getting a little tedious right now.

Anyway. Hair? Why would this be fatal? It is never really explained. Though hair features a lot in what follows. For, the women, too, are afflicted with a surfeit of it. On their arms, their necks, their body. We see a lot of shaving!

As for the low-tech back to nature bit, this is achieved by society reverting to near subsistence level. Apart from the fact that one of the women owns an android, constructed in the form of her one-time lover. Apart, also, from the hi-tech laser augmented fashion, and the equally hi-tech weaponry. This latter is a cross between something out of the very Wild West and… laser quest. Except guns on this world go by the names of present-day fashion designers. So, we must get to grips with the Gucci rifle, and a Chanel pistol.

Oh, the android – did I mention? They’re a Louis Vuitton.

So much for the set-up: After Blue, we understand quickly enough, is very odd; and this sense of oddness is only deepened by some clever camerawork which hands us mysterious, misty, glittery woodlands and very alien looking open spaces. If nothing else makes sense to you, just sit back and appreciate the scenery.

On to the main course. The film’s focus is on Roxy (Paula Luna), taunted as “toxic Roxy” by the village girls. We open with Roxy and assorted mean girls out for a frolic on a beach (because, yes, there is a lot of frolicking going on in After Blue) much of it of the 'nekkid' sort. When the girls frolic off for a swim, Roxy discovers a woman (Agata Buzek), buried up to her neck in the sand.

This is Katajena Bushovsky. Which is long for “Kate Bush”. Because, of course, we want the villain of this film to be a global pop star. Dug loose by Roxy, Kate promptly promises three wishes. Then, without even asking, she sets off to grant what she is sure would be Roxy’s first wish, to murder her mean girl companions.


Back in the village, the coven – sorry, council - of Elders, wearing large floppy hats, is unimpressed. Lead elder Severine (Alexandra Stewart) orders Roxy and her mum Zora (Elina Löwensohn), who also happens to be a hairdresser(!) to find and kill Kate Bush.

So, off they set. The rest of the film, which is most of it, is an Odyssey of sorts. That is, an Odyssey of the sort you might experience if you began your trip with a plate of magic mushrooms spiced with LSD. There is a lot of weird and inexplicable sex between various cast members and those they meet along the way. And masturbation. There is loads of masturbation, as characters just randomly stop what they are doing and start touching themselves.

After her first and only sexual experience with what might be the very last man, Roxy encounters trees with penis-shaped branches dripping in some gooey white substance. As one does, after having sex with someone with a set of octopus like tentacles for genitals. Paging Dr Freud!

But, hey! Don’t let that worry you: Because we learn early on that Kate’s Bush is concealing something equally disturbing: an eye where her vagina should be!

What to make of it? I am not sure there is much to make here. The publicity material references Barbarella, but that feels like misdirection. Because while Barbarella broke all sorts of moulds when it appeared in the Sixties – including sexual ones – and had a strong and fascinating visual sense, echoed by the scenery here, it was nonetheless pretty conventional in terms of narrative.

As, in one sense, is After Blue. Except almost none of it makes sense. We know Zora and Roxy are on a mission. But beyond that? Who is the artist Sternberg (Vimala Pons) and how come she seems to have set up an all mod cons residence in the midst of the mountains? Why are Climax and Kiefer? And what has director Bertrand Mandico got against Polish folk?

The latter, I suspect is in-joke and not actual dislike. Nonetheless, it is confusing. Where narrative fails, look for symbolism; and there are symbols aplenty. It’s just not clear that they mean anything coherent.

But then Mandico is a French experimental film director with an interest in the body and gender fluidity. In 2012, he joined with Icelandic filmmaker Katrín Ólafsdóttir in putting together the Incoherence Manifesto, which includes the intriguing assertion that “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”.

In other words, lie back, let the film wash over you and enjoy the experience rather than get too hung up on the finer plot details. That includes the score, a dark accompaniment from Pierre Desprats that works to support the onscreen action.

To begin, the lack of clarity was frustrating. As the film went on, however, I stopped wondering what it all meant, allowed myself to sink into it and the end result was OK. Ish.

I even, mostly, swallowed down qualms at yet another helping of lesbian erotica from a male director. Insight or voyeurism? I guess that is another quality the film shares with Barbarella.

On release to English audiences as After Blue, the film, which is in French with English subtitles, was originally known as Paradis Sale, or Dirty Paradise. I cannot help feeling that was the better name for it.

Reviewed on: 02 Oct 2022
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After Blue packshot
It's a distant future, on a savage planet, where only women can survive. The lonely teenager Roxy frees a criminal buried in the sand. Once freed, the woman, who goes by the name of Kate Bush, starts spreading fear and death again.
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Director: Bertrand Mandico

Writer: Bertrand Mandico

Starring: Elina Löwensohn, Paula Luna, Vimala Pons, Agata Buzek, Michaël Erpelding, Mara Taquin, Claïna Clavaron, Claire Duburcq, Anaïs Thomas, Pauline Lorillard, Delphine Chuillot, Tamar Baruch, Camille Rutherford, Alexandra Stewart, Nathalie Richard

Year: 2021

Runtime: 127 minutes

Country: France


Vilnius 2022

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