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).
Barbaric Beauty on Lush 35mm
She Is Conann
- Release Date
- February 4, 2024
- Bertrand Mandico
- Elina Löwensohn , Christa Théret , Julia Riedler , Claire Duburcq
- 1hr 45min
- Bertrand Mandico
- Les Films Fauves, Ecce Films, Flor, éal
- Filming in 35mm with cosmic wardrobes and excellent camera work is a highlight.
- The slow-burn buildup to the third act is well worth it.
- Director Bertrand Mandico blends multiple genres in his most ambitious film yet.
- Mainstream viewers will likely quickly exit the experimental film.
First, a quick refresher: In his 1982 film, the former California governor plays the beloved hero who started as an orphaned boy-turned-slave after his village is overthrown. When he grows up, however, 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 little 2023 French film pays tribute to the beloved hero in ultimate feminine glory.
There is no easing in with the madness here — 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 a world of color. With Conann, it’s the reverse, as 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, we’re brought into a maniacal universe that is at once retro and futuristic. First, you think it’s set in the Stone Age. Then, Rainer (Elina Löwensohn), the human-dog hybrid, 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, it wouldn’t be surprising if fans will be 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.
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Symbolism Galore in the 3rd Act
She Is Conann is arguably Mandico’s most ambitious work yet, and that’s saying something for such an audacious artist responsible for crazed 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.
The story “progresses” (using that word here feels like a bit of a stretch) in a sort of dreamlike fashion, as Rainer the dog-hybrid sticks by Conann’s side to show her the past, present, and future versions of her. “Life is an undulating serpent, says Rainer at one point, in her infinite wisdom. Then, some more mainstream content takes over the plot, where Conann becomes a stuntwoman in the Bronx in the year 1998. Talk about “macho,” a persona that would make Arnold the Terminator proud. The femme fatale-type Rainer eventually destroys this version of Conann, thanks to that camera of hers becoming a fatal weapon with each *flash* (symbolism much?). But even the next iteration would tickle an action hero’s fancy, as Conann becomes a dual knife-wielding lunatic in European military garb.
Even if you indie-film lovers out there still aren’t buying into this unique fever dream of a movie, just wait for it… The third act, while remaining maniacal and horrifying, becomes a thought-provoking statement on the world of art. Todd Solondz fans might even be reminded of the effect of his 2016 film Wiener-Dog and what the cute little pooch experienced in relation to ambitious, oddball artists. “I’m becoming a work of art,” says the final Conann, a veteran artist of wealth who invites younger talents to join her for one last hurrah and perhaps even inherit all her wealth. That is if they do one thing: eat her dead carcass in its entirety first…
Mankind, specifically artists, consuming a landmark character in history — this sounds like it could be the topic of an Oscar-winning documentary. Instead, it’s an accurate summation of the thrilling third act of She Is Conann, which surely makes the somewhat slow-burn buildup all worth it. A similar effect is perhaps Ben Wheatley’s 2013 film A Field in England, whose mindbending third act was once described as swallowing the rest of the movie whole. There’s a quite literal “swallowing” of human flesh in She Is Conann, making for a gruesome arthouse experience that will certainly serve as a conversation starter, at the very least.
From Altered Innocence, She Is Conann is now playing in select theaters.