After Blue (Dirty Paradise), 2021.
Written and directed by Bertrand Mandico.
Starring Paula Luna Breitenfelder, Elina Löwensohn, Vimala Pons, and Agata Buzek.
In a distant future on a savage planet, lonely teenager Roxy frees a criminal buried in the sand. Once freed, the woman starts spreading fear and death again. Roxy and her mother Zora are deemed responsible, exiled from their community, and sentenced to track down the killer.
The second feature from Bertrand Mandico (The Wild Boys) is an unhinged odyssey that owes almost as much to Werner Herzog as it does Flash Gordon – if either had just hoofed a load of bath salts, that is. The genre-hopping After Blue (Dirty Paradise) will surely make you want to shower immediately after the end credits roll, and it’s also got midnight cult fave potential written all over it.
In the future, humanity has abandoned a desolate Earth for another planet, After Blue, and because the planet’s atmosphere causes men’s hair to fatally grow inward (you read that right), its citizens are entirely female. Roxy (Paula Luna) is the teenage daughter of settler-turned-hairdresser Zora (Elina Löwensohn), and when a listless Roxy accidentally frees a murderer bafflingly named Kate Bush (Agata Buzek) from captivity, mother and daughter are tasked with taking the escaped killer down once and for all.
In 2012, writer-director Mandico co-wrote the “Incoherence Manifesto,” girded by the maxim that “to be incoherent means to have faith in cinema, it means to have a romantic approach, unformatted, free, disturbed and dreamlike.” It’s an ethos that bleeds from every pore of his mesmeric sophomore effort, which blends myriad genres – western, sci-fi, horror, fairy-tale – into a flavourful if obtuse sensual experience.
While the core killer-tracking story is extremely simple, it’s also really just the gloss for a road trip through neon-splashed hell, as mother and daughter cross paths with numerous groups of oddballs and degenerates, and also experience their own distinct, queer sexual awakenings on a planet where men simply don’t exist. With Mandico’s commitment to incoherence being what it is, you may not always know entirely what’s going on throughout, and as such After Blue is perhaps best approached as an experience one should let wash over them.
“You are no longer on your planet,” are some of the first words spoken to Roxy in the film, and they cannily apply to the audience as well, because in the full enormity of its everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach, this is quite unlike anything else you’ll have ever seen before.
It is a film that, among many other things: flashes a “third eye” above a woman’s reproductive organs, names its primary villain after a legendary English singer-songwriter (and quickly runs the joke into the ground), features a woman masturbating with a pistol, introduces a tentacle-crotched, blind, Louis Vitton-branded android, and “blesses” audiences with the wettest cinematic kiss this side of Cruel Intentions. That’s not to forget the abundance of noodle-baking fantasy/dream/nightmare sequences on offer.
These are just a few of the many oddities that occur throughout a film whose obvious selling point is its audacious style. As impenetrable as his approach may ultimately be to many, Mandico gets an “A” for effort, following through with such gusto on his madcap aesthetic vision – one which will leave film nerds desperate to know how he pulled it all off.
After Blue feels like a movie almost completely out of time and cost; it could’ve been made decades ago or months ago, and looks neither cheap nor very expensive. However, it is a sumptuous banquet for the eyes, largely thanks to the remarkable production design – particularly some impressively elaborate alien-world sets – and harsh neon lighting and colour-grading to ensure it never feels as though it were shot on this planet. Throw in some top-notch costume work, neato alien props, and a soothing synth score from Pierre Desprats, and there’s never any doubt that every penny of the budget ended up on the screen.
The keen style is matched at every turn by an especially compelling performance from first-time actress Paula Luna as Roxy, her deadpan, dry-as-sawdust delivery of Mancido’s ever-deranged, non-sequitur dialogue rousing its share of laughs – though you may not always know if you’re definitely supposed to be laughing. When a character says, “you’re more deflated than a 100 year old’s tit,” though, you’re definitely meant to laugh.
Even some of the more stilted supporting performances lend authenticity to the film’s not-of-this-world, where-did-this-thing-come-from quality. The ensemble’s game commitment is certainly never in doubt.
It’s probably beyond the point to call Mandico’s picture indulgent, but a 130-minute runtime surely won’t help any film whose commercial prospects are already this fringe. Given some of its flabby mid-film subplots – especially one involving a pretentious artist, Sternberg (Vimala Pons) – and a long-winded denouement that feels like it’s about to end several times before it does, it’s easy to see how it could’ve easily been trimmed down to a less-intimidating 90-100 minutes. But an uncompromising vision is precisely that, and when you’re going as unassailably hog-wild as Mandico is here, why shouldn’t he throw everything at the wall?
The strength of its story can’t even begin to match the inventiveness of its visuals, but After Blue (Dirty Paradise) commits an ambitious sensory battery against viewers willing to stick out its overlong runtime.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.