She Is Conann

She Is Conann
She Is Conann
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Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cult classic Conan the Barbarian has been reimagined in ultimate queer-cinema glory. The Legend of Conan may not be happening, but it seems the cinematic legend lives on in other ways. Enter She Is Conann (originally titled just “Conann”), a multi-language new feature film that quickly becomes a bold LGBTQ+ celebration. Mainstream viewers might quickly exit, but if you stick with it, experimental filmmaker Bertrand Mandico’s new feature also evolves into a symbolic statement on the art world, especially in relation to iconic figures (both real and fictitious).

In his 1982 film, the former California governor plays the beloved hero who starts as an orphaned boy-turned-slave after his village is overthrown. But when he grows up, Arnold’s Conan sets off on a quest for revenge in honor of his fallen family, battling supernatural forces along the way. And now a 2023 French film pays tribute to the beloved hero in ultimate feminine glory.

There is no easing in with this madness — She Is Conann thrusts you right into a fantastical world led by a human-canine hybrid who speaks French and knows all about the legend of Conann — who seems to be having a bit of an identity crisis when we first meet her. In The Wizard of Oz, we were brought with Dorothy from monochrome to color. With Conann, it’s exactly opposite: An elderly Conann sits atop her throne of sorts and recounts the arduous events that led her here.

Blending sci-fi, film noir, action violence and romance around every corner, we’re brought into a maniacal universe that is at once retro and futuristic. First you think it’s set during the Stone Age. Then Rainer (Elina Löwensohn), our human-dog hybrid friend whips out a flash camera. Wait…what?! What year is this? That’s sort of the point, and it’s doubtful that director Mandico is concerned about scaring people off. If this experimental adventure attracts enough of a cult crowd, I wouldn’t be surprised if fans are dressing up in characters’ costumes for anniversary screenings in years to come. The cosmic wardrobes simply pop off the screen thanks to the lush 35mm film stock, even if the colors are often desaturated. The beautifully flowing and moving camerawork also helps here.

She Is Conann might be Mandico’s most ambitious work yet — which says a lot for an audacious artist responsible for features like The Wild Boys (2017) and After Blue (2021). With She Is Conann, he is perpetually blurring reality as the titular hero wears many faces — meaning the role is played by a variety of actresses while her journey is chronicled from young woman to warrior queen, each overcoming the last. And sometimes said “overtaking” is depicted in horrifically violent detail. Watch (through your wincing eyeballs) as Conann is forced to literally consume her mother at a young age, for example.

To say that the story “advances” (that word is a bit generous here) in a dreamlike manner, as Rainer the dog-human hybrid follows Conann around showing her different versions of herself from various times in her life would be an understatement. “Life is a wave,” Rainer says at one point with infinite wisdom. Then some more mainstream stuff happens and Conann becomes a stuntwoman in the Bronx in 1998, talk about macho, Arnold-terminator level even. The femme fatale-type Rainer eventually kills this version of Conann too, because her camera is deadly when it flashes (symbolism much?), but the next one isn’t any less action-packed — this time she’s a knife-wielding maniac in European military uniform.

If you’re still not buying this indie-fever-dream-of-a-film then just hold on for a second… The third act gets even more insane and terrifying but also manages to be an insightful commentary on art. Todd Solondz fans may find themselves thinking about what his 2016 movie Wiener-Dog said through the cute little canine character’s encounters with ambitious yet deluded artists. “I’m turning into a work of art,” says final-Conann, an elderly millionaire artist who invites young talents to join her for one last hurrah — and possibly receive all her money if they do something first: eat her dead body…

Humanity, particularly artists eating up a significant figure from history — this could be an Oscar-winning documentary. Instead it’s just what happens during the thrilling third act of She Is Conann, which makes everything build up kind of slow but worth it I promise you. A comparable effect might be Ben Wheatley’s 2013 film A Field In England whose mind-bending third act was once described as swallowing the rest of the movie whole or something like that where there’s literal human flesh eating involved so it’s definitely not for everyone but should make for a lively discussion afterwards.

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